T Nation

A Patriotic Warning, Confessions of a Kook.

Looking at the present, I see more probable future: A new despotism creeping slowly across America. Faceless oligarchs sit at command posts of a corporate-government complex that has slowly evolving over many decades. In efforts to enlarge their own powers and privileges, they are willing to have others suffer the intended or unintended consequences include chronic inflation, recurring recession, open and hidden unemployment, the poisoning of air, water, soil and bodies, and more important, the subversion of our constitution.

More broadly, consequences include widespread intervention in international politics through economic manipulation, covert action, or military invasion. On a world scale, all of this is already producing a heating up of cold war and enlarged stockpiles of nuclear and non-nuclear death machines.

I see at present members of the Establishment or people on its fringes who, in the name of Americanism, betray the interests of most Americans by fomenting militarism, applauding rat-race individualism, protecting underserved privilege, or stirring up nationalistic and ethnic hatreds. I see pretended patriots who desecrate the American flag by waving it while waiving the law.

In this present, many highly intelligent people look wit but one eye and see only one part of the emerging Leviathan. From the right, we are warned against the danger of state capitalism or state socialism, in which Big Government dominates Big Business. From the left we hear that the future danger (or present reality) is monopoly capitalism, with finance capitalists dominated the state. 

I am prepared to offer a cheer and a half for each view; together, they make enough sense for a full tree cheers. Big Business and Big Government have been learning how to live in bed together, and despite arguments between them, enjoy the cohabitation. Who may be on top at any particular moment is a minor matter- and in any case can be determined only by those with privileged access to a well-positioned keyhole.

I am uneasy with those who still adhere strictly to Present Eisenhower's warning in his farewell address against the potential for the disastrous rise of power in the hands of the military-industrial complex. Nearly two decades later, it should be clear to the opponents of militarism that the military-industrial complex does not walk alone. 

It has many partners: the nuclear-power complex, the technology-science complex, the city-planning-development-land speculation complex, the agribusiness complex, the communications complex, and the enormous tangle of public bureaucracies and universities whose overt and secret services provide the foregoing with financial sustenance and a nurturing environment.

Equally important, the emerging Big Business-Big Government partnership has a global reach. It is rooted in colossal transnational corporations and complexes that help knit together a “free world” on which the sun never sets. These are elements of the new despotism.

A few years ago a fine political scientist, Kenneth Dolbeare, Conducted a series of in-depth interviews totaling twenty to twenty-five hours per person. He found that most respondents were deeply afraid of some future despotism. "The most striking thing about inquiring into expectations for the future", he reported, "is the rapidity with which the concept of fascism (with or without the label) enters the conversation." 

But not all knowledge serves the cause of Freedom. In this case the tendency is to suppress fears of the future, just as most people have learned to repress fears of a nuclear holocaust. It is easier to repress well-justified fears than to control the dangers giving rise to the. Thus dolbeare found an “air-raid shelter mentality, in which people go underground rather than deal directly with threatening prospects”.

Fear by it, as Alan Wolfe has warned could help immobilize people and nurture the apathy, which is already too large in American Society. But repression of fear can do he same- and repression of fear is a reality in America. As I look at America today, I am not afraid to say that I am afraid. I am afraid of those who proclaim that it can?t happen here. 

In 1935 Sinclair Lewis wrote a popular novel in which a racist, anti-Semitic, flag-waving, army-backed demagogue wins the 1936 presidential election and proceeds to establish an Americanized version of Nazi Germany. The title, it can’t happen here, was a tongue-in-cheek warning that it might. But the “it” Lewis referred to is unlikely to happen again any place.

Even in today’s Germany, Italy, Japan, a modern-style corporate state or society would be far different from the old regimes of Hitler, Mussolini, and the Japanese oligarchs. Anyone looking for black shirts, mass parties, or men on horseback will miss the telltale clues of creeping fascism. In any First World country of advanced capitalism, the new fascism will be colored by national and cultural heritage, the new fascism will be colored by national and cultural heritage, ethnic and religious composition, formal political structure, and geopolitical environment.

The Japanese or German versions would be quite different from the Italian variety ? and still more different from the British, French, Belgian, Dutch, Australian, Canadian, or Israeli versions. In America, it would be super modern and multi-ethnic- as American as Madison Avenue, executive luncheons, credits cards, and apple pie. It would be Fascism with a smile. As a warning against its cosmetic fa?ade, subtle manipulation, and velvet gloves, I call it friendly Fascism. What scares me is its subtle appeal.

I am worried by those who fail to remember ? or have never learned- that Big Business-Big Government partnerships, backed up by other elements, were the central facts behind the power structures of old fascism in the days of Mussolini, Hitler, and the Japanese empire builders.

I am worried by those who quibble about labels. Some of my friends seem transfixed by the idea that if it is fascism, it must appear in the classic, unfriendly form of their youth. "Why, oh Why," they retrospectively moan, "Didn't people see what was happening during the 1920s and the 1930s?" But in their own blindness they are willing to use the terms invented by the fascist ideologists, "corporate state" or "corporatism" but not fascism.

I am upset with those who prefer to remain spectators until it may be too late. I am shocked by those who seem to believe-in Anne Morrow Lindbergh's words of 1940- that "there is no fighting the wave of the future" and all you can do is "Leap with it". I am appalled by those who stiffly maintain that nothing can be done until things get worse or the system has been changed.

I am afraid of inaction. I am afraid of those who will heed no warning and who wait for revelation, research, or technology, to offer a perfect solution. I am afraid of those who do not see that some of the best in America has been the product of promises and that the promises of the past are not enough for the future. I am dismayed by those who will not hope, who will not commit themselves to something larger than themselves, of those who are afraid of true democracy or even its pursuit.

I suspect that many people underestimate both the dangers that lie ahead and the potential strength of those who seem weak and powerless. Either underestimation stems, I think, from fear of bucking the Establishment. This is deep and well-hidden fear that guides the thoughts and actions of many of my warmest friends, closest colleagues, and best students. It is fear I know only too well, for it has pervaded many years of my life.

I fear any personal arrogance in urging this or that form of action- the arrogance of ideologies who claim a monopoly on truth, of positivists who treat half-truths as whole truths, of theoreticians who stay aloof from the dirty confusions of political and economic combat, and of the self-stayed "practical" people who fear the endless clash of theories. 

I am afraid of the arrogance of technocrats as well as the ultra-rich and their high executives. Some of this arrogance I often find in my own behavior. I am afraid of blind anti-fascism.