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Re: <nettime> Fascism in the USA?
Brian Holmes on Sun, 1 Jun 2003 05:42:49 +0200 (CEST)


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Re: <nettime> Fascism in the USA?


A clarification:

I have used the word fascism to describe the slow drift of a 
democratic society toward acceptance of the increasing use of 
violence without any need to legitimate it through public debate or 
legal process. My aim was to ask the question, of all those living in 
or closely involved with the USA (and I must add that although 
residing abroad, I am a US citizen), whether this drift can now be 
measured in the country, and if so, through what specific signs. The 
point of the word "fascism" was to underline the seriousness of the 
question.

I don't think we have a word in our language to correctly describe 
what has not yet taken place. But one would have to be gifted with a 
very weak imagination not to fear the consequences that can arise 
when a powerful nation begins to use its military force preemptively, 
on the basis of its leaders' intuitions, backed up by the flagrant 
manipulation of public opinion. One would have to blind to the power 
of propaganda, to think that Fox News is another anodyne version of 
infotainment. One would have to have little respect for the social 
functions of legal process, to think that the prisoners in Guantanamo 
Bay are just a detail. That all of this reflects the will of a 
minority is something of which I'm well aware; the question is, will 
the minority be successfully opposed? To be confident on principle in 
the American democracy's capacity to overcome its current backslide, 
and to claim utter incomparability with the political responses to 
the inextricable economic problems of certain European countries in 
the 1930s, would seem a refusal to even think about the potential 
outcomes of the present situation. Which today seems like a very good 
recipe for allowing the present situation to get worse.

For years I have been as serious a critic as possible of American 
economic policy and of its consequences on the global scale. It never 
occurred to me to use the word fascism. But after September 11, and 
in the protracted aftermath of the speculative economy's collapse, 
what I see emerging is a new political baseline of manipulated fear 
and media-driven jingoism to replace the former baseline of 
self-congratulatory greed. Politically, I think this can be a winning 
formula in an otherwise inextricable situation, and this, beyond the 
USA itself. In response to someone's question about anti-Semitism in 
France, there isn't just anti-Semitism, there's anti-Arabism and 
anti-Africanism and anti-Gypsyism too, and the right has made its 
gains from all of them, while the institutional left has come out as 
weak as the democrats in the US. As the overconfident business 
leaders have lost their mesmerizing force of conviction, almost 
everywhere we are seeing a powerfully conservative reaction to the 
acceleration of social change in the globalizing 1990s. Almost 
everywhere means: in the US, in Europe, in the Arab world. It is the 
American right, however, that has the ideological broadcasting power 
to invent the winning formula of political reaction (the one to match 
and justify the Revolution in Military Affairs). I don't say they 
will do it, or that they have done it, but that they may do it. 
Before we have the dubious intellectual pleasure of inventing a new 
word to describe the original and sophisticated forms of callous 
cynicism, bootstamping and cowering fear that only our networked era 
can produce, I think we would do better to ask what is happening now, 
why, at what levels and through what channels, and how to effectively 
oppose it. Thus my question.

best, Brian Holmes

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