Monday, January 5, 2009

Structures, Society and the Big 3

As astute observers have noted, the 20th century saw the formulation of 3 totalitarianisms: Nazifascism, Communism and Liberalism. While it is generally agreed upon that Nazifascism was defeated in 'The Big One', it was only the most anti-modern and illiberal elements which were vanquished. Just as the fall of the Berlin Wall ostensibly heralded the defeat of Communism, one sees liberal democracies embracing the security state as soon as the postcommunist era is announced. While Nazifascism and Communism were defeated ideologically, politically and economically, elements remained and fused with the last totalitarianism. Hence the liberalism of today is not the liberalism of Locke or Emerson, it is a mix of Reaganite/Thatcherite neoliberalism and social democracy, the so called Third Way of Clinton, Blair, and [most likely] Obama.

European social democracy in the postwar period has its origins in a few places, but the form it evolved into up to the late modern era can be traced back to the Federal Republic of Germany. As the abstract to Eucken's 'Social Market Economy' and Its Test in Post-War West Germany by Siegfried G. Karsten explains:

Walter Eucken's paradigm of a "social market economy" and "Ordnung" provides a framework for a functional free-market mechanism, which not only accommodates development and change, but which also assures human dignity and freedom, as cornerstones of the Kantian moral universe. Eucken places special emphasis on the integration of economics with "order" and "justice," in a synthesis of negative liberty and positive freedom and of Rawls' and Nozick's theories of justice. Adam Smith's laissez faire economy does not assure a competitive economy, he holds, and will evolve into monopolistic practices, interventionism, and distortions of price relationships; but "structural" and "regulating" principles will facilitate a functionally competitive economy with a compatible social policy, characterized by a flexible price mechanism and stable policies. This "social market economy" would provide goods and services efficiently and also eliminate poverty and the maldistribution of income and resources.

The geographic location of this system is no accident. Germany, located in between the East and West of Europe, synthesized the values of individual freedom and liberty found in West Europe and America with the communal and collective values of Russia and Scandinavia. While some see social democracy as a middle ground between Marxist socialism and capitalism, the social justice and centrality of community in this system is more aptly traced to the ethnocentric, communal conservatism of the continental Conservative Revolution. Hence, the folkhemmet in Sweden has its origins in the thought of Rudolf Kjellén. Kjellén's views are clearly a major influence on the Nazi theory of volksgemeinschaft . Though a few stages of separation away, perhaps this is the "Nazi bedrock" of the West German state which the enfants terribles of the Baader Meinhof gang referred to?

This theory of the state and society as an all-inclusive whole can also be found in a few places among the big 3. One such place is Kojeve's updated theory of Hegel's universal and homogeneous state, which he saw as fulfilling the aims of communism through capitalism. Giovanni Gentile, intellectual father of Italian Fascism, had a similar idea of the role of the state. As Giuseppe Parlato explains in Giovanni Gentile: From the Risorgimento to Fascism from Telos #133:

To Gentile, totalitarianism meant inclusion, the union of the whole, the overcoming of divisions on all levels. From this perspective, the fact that Gentile invited many intellectuals to participate in the Italian Encyclopedia did not signify generosity and political independence, but rather was consistent with his defined plan. For Gentile, the fact that antifascism should be incorporated into the great project of the state was the culmination of the totalitarian thrust, irrespective of the fact that antifascist forces were still opposed to the regime. Thanks to him, these forces were cooperating with the regime.

In the United States, the New Deal marks the beginning for the totalitarian turn of liberalism. Essentially a progressive form of Italian corporatism, though Roosevelt had no intention of incorporating his opponents into the system, it was instituted to save capitalism from itself. With the state on overdrive and a war economy in the works, the population was drawn together under the blanket of a top-down populism and civic nationalism which would be a mainstay of the Democratic Party up to Carter. This era of managerial democracy was articulated by Lawrence Dennis and later James Burnham. While many New Deal programs would be eliminated in the postwar era, the notion of society as an impersonal mass that needed to be managed survived and evolved.

One such place where this idea blossomed was in architecture. Again we see an overlap with the other members of the Big 3, as all modern architecture has its roots in the Bauhaus school whose members were influenced by revisionist Marxism and first forumlated the notion that society could be molded and made more just by the buildings in it. Other famous and successful high modernist architects had connections with fascism and Nazism. Le Corbusier was involved with the Vichy regime due to an interest in planisme and Philip Johnson, a disciple of Father Coughlin, was thoroughly enthused with Nazi Germany for among many reasons, "all those blond boys in black leather."

So in postwar America one has uniform, utilitarian housing projects to promote equality among the masses and expansive, Brutalist corporate and government buildings to project the notions of efficiency and power held by the rulers. Just take this quote and accompanying picture from The Nation's review of a book on HUD director Robert Clifton Weaver.

Robert Clifton Weaver had been a prominent economist, a longtime advocate of fair-housing laws and a member of the country's black intellectual elite ever since the days before the end of segregation. President Lyndon Johnson had appointed Weaver to head HUD after the agency was founded in 1965, making him the first black cabinet official in American history. And it was Weaver who had dedicated the new HUD building three years later, its Brutalist architecture still cutting-edge and the idealism of the Great Society still fresh.

Then in the beginning of the 21st century, we have all the spoiled leftovers of the big 3. From Communism and Nazifascism, an oversized, absolutist state whose notion of legitimacy is based simply on the fact that it exists and can imprison you for questioning it. From liberalism, the continual exploitive aspects of capitalism including the abandonment of manufacturing for a service industy: everybody selling hamburgers and handbags to eachother but nothing of actual worth. From social democracy, a bloated system of welfare, while a living wage for workers, free university tuition for those who are smart enough to get in but can't afford it, and national healthcare remain out of the question. And from Communism and liberalism, a generally accepted consciousness which treats human beings as they should be rather than the way we are. Oh, what a nice grab bag we're left with from all of yesterday's parties.

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