The American Road to Fascism

Just posted this piece on ssrn.   Here is the abstract:

The U.S. Presidential election of 2016 occurred amidst a disturbingly reminiscent coalescence of patterns — the economic displacement of the working class, the protracted paralysis of the legislative branch, the seeming indifference of the governing classes, the perception of widespread corruption, the neutralization of a vital left, and the festering wounds to national pride wrought of multiple lost wars. These patterns are familiar: Together, they comprise (albeit in much more attenuated form) the combustible mix that presaged the rise of National Socialism in 1930’s Germany.

Fast forward: a little more than 100 days into his administration, Trump is constructing a political world of alternative facts, casual mendacity, paranoid political conspiracies, free-form attacks on enemies of the people, ethnic vilification, and disdain for democratic and rule of law norms. What is perhaps most disturbing about this (in addition to its effects) is that this was the appeal that won him the Presidency among precisely the classes of people that classically form the core of fascist constituencies in times of economic and cultural displacement like those we have recently experienced. Trump’s Presidency is thus not only alarming because of what he does, but because of what his election represents. He is a warning albeit one that arrives on the scene in the dire form of crisis.

How did we get here? And are we on the threshold of fascism or some sort of right wing authoritarianism? This piece examines the big theoretical picture. The piece addresses the questions by tracing the various forms that constitutional democracy has cumulatively taken in the United States: liberal democratic, administrative and neoliberal. The essay shows how in failing to reckon with their internal contradictions, these combined  forms of the constitutional democratic state have in some ways prepared the grounds for some sort of right-wing authoritarianism.

There are three key narratives.   The first is that the liberal democratic state alone is fundamentally unstable.  The second is that the rise of the administrative state in the midst of the liberal democratic state has yielded  an arrested dialectic–a prolonged oscillation which over time translates into decay.    The third is that neoliberalism (as conceptualized herein) has opportunistically, in both the moral and biological sense, exploited and accelerated this decay compromising the institutions of both state and civil society.

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