Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Abandoned Middle

It Can't Happen Here, Sinclair Lewis
Driving in to work today, I caught snippet of an interview with former Senator Trent Lott who was discussing a report on how the political process is doing here is tense and fracturing America. The report, Governing in a Polarized America: A Bipartisan Blueprint to Strengthen our Democracy (link is to an executive summary in .pdf) provides a variety of analyses and recommendations, most of which you can expect will be ignored "[i]n today’s hyper-partisan era, when citizens are more politically divided and get more of their news and information from ideologically driven sources..."

This was yet another NGO staffed by yet the same cast of political characters recycled over the past few decades through government, corporate America, and the NGO borg, trotting out yet another report which will be ignored. So what? Well, it reminded me of a series of blog posts by John Michael Greer from early 2014 which I think you will find of interest.

Mr. Greer holds a lot of unpopular opinions about Industrial Society, humanity's place in the Universe, and the rise and fall of societies and empires. That said, he does a tremendous amount of novel and informed thinking on a wide range of what ails the world right now and, whether you agree with the assumptions or not, his blog is on that short list of routine internet commentaries which are worth the time to read and ponder.

The posts in question revolved around fascism. He noted that the term has been thrown around as a label of abuse since World War II by all sorts of groups, but very little discussion is actually done on what the tenets of fascism are or how fascist governments actually rose to power in Europe in the early and mid Twentieth Century.

I want to draw particular attention to the second post, entitled "The Totalitarian Center," centering on the destruction of the concept of political conservatism as it had been understood up until the early 20th Century and the concept of the "abandoned middle" of politics:
...Americans may not agree about much, but a remarkably large number of them agree that neither political party is listening to them, or offering policies that Americans in general find appealing or even acceptable. Where the two major parties can reach a consensus—for example, in giving bankers a de facto amnesty for even the most egregious and damaging acts of financial fraud—there’s normally a substantial gap between that consensus and the policies that most Americans support. Where the parties remain at loggerheads, there are normally three positions: the Democratic position, the Republican position, and the position most Americans favor, which never gets brought up in the political arena at all.

That’s one of the pervasive occupational hazards of democratic systems under strain. In Italy before and during the First World War, and in Germany after it, democratic institutions froze up around a series of problems that the political systems in question were unwilling to confront and therefore were unable to address.  Every mainstream political party was committed to maintaining the status quo in the face of a rising spiral of crisis that made it brutally clear that the status quo no longer worked.  One government after another took office, promising to make things better by continuing the same policies that were making things worse, while the opposition breathed fire and brimstone, promising fierce resistance to the party in power on every issue except those that mattered—and so, in both countries, a figure from outside the political mainstream who was willing to break with the failed consensus won the support of enough of the voters to shoulder his way into power.

When fascism succeeds in seizing power, in other words, it’s not a right-wing movement, or for that matter a left-wing one. It seizes the abandoned middle ground of politics, takes up the popular causes that all other parties refuse to touch, and imposes a totalitarianism of the center. That’s the secret of fascism’s popularity—and it’s the reason why an outbreak of full-blown fascism is a real and frightening possibility as America stumbles blindly into an unwelcome future...
I suggest you read the short series and keep that in mind as you watch the U.S. teeter here at the edge of the abyss. When social mood makes the Great Turn which is setting up before our eyes, keep an eye out on the various third parties which will attempt to rise up and see if any of them figure out how to cash in on this insight.

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