25 January 2007

American Fascism?

A colleague of mine alerted me to this interview with Chris Hedges, author of American Fascism, which discusses the danger of far right extremist fundamentalist movements. Of particular interest, I think, is his focus on the relationship between economic woes and growing economic anxiety, and the emergence of these apocalyptic movements, which I find to be both an interesting and important observation:
In the beginning of the book, you write briefly about covering wars in Latin America, the Middle East and the Balkans. How did that shape the way you understand these social forces in America? What similarities do you see?

When I covered the war in the Balkans, there was always the canard that this was a war about ancient ethnic hatreds that was taken from Robert Kaplan's "Balkan Ghosts." That was not a war about ancient ethnic hatreds. It was a war that was fueled primarily by the economic collapse of Yugoslavia. Milosevic and Tudman, and to a lesser extent Izetbegovic, would not have been possible in a stable Yugoslavia.

When I first covered Hamas in 1988, it was a very marginal organization with very little power or reach. I watched Hamas grow. Although I came later to the Balkans, I had a good understanding of how Milosevic built his Serbian nationalist movement. These radical movements share a lot of ideological traits with the Christian right, including that cult of masculinity, that cult of power, rampant nationalism fused with religious chauvinism. I find a lot of parallels.

People have a very hard time believing the status quo of their existence, or the world around them, can ever change. There's a kind of psychological inability to accept how fragile open societies are. When I was in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, at the start of the war, I would meet with incredibly well-educated, multilingual Kosovar Albanian friends in the cafes. I would tell them that in the countryside there were armed groups of the Kosovo Liberation Army, who I'd met, and they would insist that the Kosovo Liberation Army didn't exist, that it was just a creation of the Serb police to justify repression.

You saw the same thing in the cafe society in Sarajevo on the eve of the war in Bosnia. Radovan Karadzic or even Milosevic were buffoonish figures to most Yugoslavs, and were therefore, especially among the educated elite, never taken seriously. There was a kind of blindness caused by their intellectual snobbery, their inability to understand what was happening. I think we have the same experience here. Those of us in New York, Boston, San Francisco or some of these urban pockets don't understand how radically changed our country is, don't understand the appeal of these buffoonish figures to tens of millions of Americans.
As I argue in the conclusion to my recent paper on apocalypticism, the central feature of apocalyptic narratives seems to be that they present the time of action as deferred, as if we are powerless in the present, unable to do anything now to transform our social conditions as the forces of capital are too strong to be resisted and fought against. The time of the now, of the present, has disappeared. Or, put otherwise, the present no longer appears as an actable space. The middle class worker working for the corporation encounters lay-offs every few years as a result of stockholder decisions, shifts in global economy that require downsizing, and changes in technology, making them much like the Stoic slave Epictetus who can only endure his fate and turn inward, rather than change life under empire. So too with lower class workers who increasingly find themselves in competition with outsourcing and technologies that render their jobs obselete. This echoes, Poetix's, K-Punk's, and Jodi Dean's thesis that today it is impossible to imagine a beyond or alternative to life under contemporary global capitalism. Fundamentalist apocalyptic narratives become powerfully attractive under such conditions, as they promise the possibility of a post-apocalyptic world where these antagonisms are resolved and the disruption at the heart of the social is finally pacified. The problem, of course, is that in being seduced by these narratives, the followers are led to endorse a number of other downright frightening things at the level of policy... Policies that are often directly against their own self-interests.

It seems to me that an element commonly missing from these discussions is the role played by the contemporary hegemony of the "discourse of the victim". One of the uncanny points of identity between both left and right is the primacy of victim discourses as the only authentic position from which to formulate an ethics and politics. Thus we have victimhood as minority status on the left, and the perceived persecution of Christians and white heterosexual males as the dominant trope on the right. One question worth asking is why politics must today take the form of a discourse of the victim. I haven't come up with any answers to this question, yet it does seem that "being-a-victim" confers one a minimal ontologically substantiality or identity in a world where identity has progressively been virtualized and rendered precarious by the collapse of the big Other. The dangers of rightwing discourses of the victim are, I think, readily apparent in terms of the sorts of action they thereby authorize.

The entire interview can be read for free if you watch and advertisement.

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9 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"O SON OF MAN! Ponder and reflect. Is it thy wish to die upon thy bed, or to shed thy life-blood on the dust, a martyr in My path, and so become the manifestation of My command and the revealer of My light in the highest paradise? Judge thou aright, O servant! "

... that is to say ... i enjoy your blog ... although you weave in & out of subjects ... still ... a quality of writering that i soemtimes enjoy ... vicitims are immature martyrs ... martyrs are those that live {and i must emphasize the word live} knowing of their personal relationship with the Glory of God ... much yet to be written & understood about martyrs & martyrdom {most in the west only here of the extreme cases and those of yet to learn of the sublime affinity of the sould attraction towards the unkownable infinity} ... good blog ... hope someone takes up the cause of explaining & thus perhaps helping vicitims to mature into responsible martyrs ... oneness, the apostle dean ... ... ... "O SON OF MAN! Ponder and reflect. Is it thy wish to die upon thy bed, or to shed thy life-blood on the dust, a martyr in My path, and so become the manifestation of My command and the revealer of My light in the highest paradise? Judge thou aright, O servant!"

January 25, 2007 9:05 PM  
Blogger Dejan said...

This is a very good point to make - that the passivity and irresponsibility of so much democratic intelligentsia in Serbia allowed all the various nationalistic figures to flourish. And indeed it's an important lesson for America at this time.

However the ''new'' thesis that economic decline led to the nationalisms does not strike me as the ultimate explanation, nor an especially effective one from the perspective of Lacanian analysis.

I think it is precisely the fact that Yugoslavia, as an universalising, Communist multi-cultural model violently suppressed national identity, replacing it with New Age-style abstractions (there used to be a term for this, ''brotherhood and unity''), that accounts for the vehement and (seemingly) sudden return of nationalism - but this time, in a NEGATIVE form, as paranoia and ethnic hatred - after the fall of Communism. It's really a textbook example of the Return of the Repressed.

None of the Yugoslav nations and nationalities could actually identify with the abstractions, and this caused a lot of unacknowledged resentment, which living there until my 25th birthday I could witness on a daily basis as cynical and hateful little verbal exchanges between Yugoslavs ''when nobody was looking''.

So I think your thinking-through of apocalyptic narratives in Lacanese terms applies better to the Yugoslav case, than the author's economic explanation here.

January 25, 2007 9:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the love of money is the root of all evil ... yes ? ... so it is natural to look at money/economics in the role of apocalyptic thought ... "It would be difficult to exaggerate the psychological and social impact of the anticipated replacement of the jumble of existing monetary systems--for many, the ultimate fortress of nationalist pride--by a single world currency operating largely through electronic impulses." ... money actually lies at the heart of nationalism ... as the old economic order continues to break down {bis/imf/wb/cb/etc} and the "new economy" {internet/mbak/voip/single world currency} begins to further consolidate one can expect to see many things ... including the apocalyptic narratives in the immuture minds ... oneness, the apostle dean

January 25, 2007 10:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

talk about apocalyptic thought ... how is this for reality ... *smile*

"The central Nepal Rastra Bank had proposed that the picture of the king be replaced by that of Lord Buddha, Doordarshan News reported here quoting Nepal Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat."

January 25, 2007 10:49 PM  
Anonymous Dr X said...

anonymous wrote:

"It would be difficult to exaggerate the psychological and social impact of the anticipated replacement of the jumble of existing monetary systems--for many, the ultimate fortress of nationalist pride--by a single world currency operating largely through electronic impulses."

Just an observation. The association between changes in the economic system and the end times is an important part of the manifest, present day Christian apocalyptic narrative drawn from one of the more well-known parts of the book of Revelation (Ch 13:16-18.)

And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads:

And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.

Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number [is] Six hundred threescore [and] six.


These passages have been variously construed as references to bar codes, biometric chips and economic activity operating through electronic systems.

http://tinyurl.com/2p7z4o
http://tinyurl.com/32d38j
http://tinyurl.com/35yktm

January 27, 2007 7:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think there are rather important differences between Right and Left victim discourses. It appears to me that the right posits a rupture in the symbolic that liberates them from having to map the trauma (historicizing, grieving, etc.) and, as you say, authorizes unmitigated aggression. In the context of 9/11 this seems obvious, but I think the dynamic is similar whenever they perceive a threat to the white male body/politic. ("You're a feminist, and I think that's adorable, but it's grown-up time now, and I'm the man," says Peter Griffin.) Leftist discourses of victimhood would seem to have a comparatively full sense of the structure of victimization, and in arguing their case, an appeal to the collapse of absence of the big Other is one among several strategies.

It is interesting that, given the commonality of the story that the collapse of the Other is economically determined, there is no victim-identity discourse surrounding the "worker."

January 27, 2007 2:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

is the glass half empty or full ? ... is Jesus just a man , as Judaism states or is He the Saviour as the Christians state? ... are we essentially material or spritual nature ? ... all of this is to say that the point of origion often determines the outcome ... like do we consider someone, or ourselves, as victims and by association all sorts of images and realities come to mind ... or ... do we consider ourselves and others as martyrs ? ... ... is the glass half empty or full ? ... ... ... in other side notes to this discussion it is interesting to note "Spiritual and materialistic conceptions of the nature of reality are irreconcilable with one another and lead in opposite directions." ... ... ... at some point we, individually and collectively must chose to follow either the path of materialism or the path of the spiritual .... at some point one side will become dominate .... it is often the case that when the irreconcilable differences arise this is what may lead to further apocalyptic thought within individuals ... "peace is the very foundation of God, war is a stanic institution"

January 28, 2007 7:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmmm, and here I thought it was the danger of LEFTIST FACISM I see brewing in the country.

But, but that can't be true you blubber....

WHATEVER.

April 20, 2007 11:21 AM  
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December 30, 2008 12:23 AM  

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