24 October 2010

Why 2084 won't be like "1984"

This article by Sara Robinson strikes me as all wrong. I don't doubt that the Tea Partyists, despite their protestations about Big Gummit, represent a nascent type of American fascism and would be happy as pumpkins on the vine in a one-party state which they controlled. They're very capable of compartmentalized thinking and at any rate have never had any quarrel with the police, military, or security state that would be the most identifiable trappings of a fascist government. But Robinson's warnings that we are one election away from Tea Fascism is mistaken, both because she misapplies Paxton's descriptions, and because old fashioned fascism as they both imagine it is a 20th century idea that is probably past its prime as an option for authoritarian control by the elite.

On the first issue, the chief strike against Robinson's argument is that the business elite, with a notable exception or two, really hasn't embraced the TP candidates very much. We all know the uneasiness is probably unwarranted, but nevertheless there's still a good bit of friction between the baggers and the Chamber of Commerce-types. In order for a fascist party to seize power, the elite has to feel it is sufficiently threatened by a popular movement from the left that its only option left is to empower the fascists. Robinson, being a good liberal, might imagine that the election of Obama represents such a movement, and it is possible that the potential empowerment of traditionally disillusioned segments of the population may have made the ears on a few plutocrats twitch, hence the emergence of the Tea Party as a precautionary measure. We know better than this, however; Obama has never been a threat himself, and has successfully corralled the energy of the popular movement surrounding him in 2008 and his dawdling has sent large portions of it back to the political abyss.

Secondly, if there is to be a successful authoritarian movement in the United States, it's not going to take the form of a classic, one-party dictatorship. Indeed, if there's one thing Americans learn from the cradle to the grave it's that "democracy" means "you get to vote every couple of years." Take that away and immediately everyone knows something fishy is up. And why would you bother with such a step? The elite already has everything it could possibly want now. Elections are contested between two political parties which are often indistinguishable, have nebulous policy aims, and regularly collude to keep pressing issues off the table. In the wake of one of these elections, the "will of the electorate" is evaluated, interpreted and presented back to it by media pundits who determine the mandate of the new government. The press itself vigilantly bars Unserious views from its pages and uncritically vomits government propaganda, all without any need for a minder. What more could you ask for?

This is the blueprint from which the next generation of totalitarianism will be built. A consumerist state, where "democracy" is not something that we make ourselves, but a world where politicians are produced and sold to us and we are only so delighted that we have such freedom to choose! Who needs to be a citizen when you can be a consumer? If you want a vision of the future, imagine a human hand swiping a credit card, forever.