Milton Friedman or Richard Nixon wrote:
We are all Keynsians now.
Are we all fascists now?
No, I don’t mean Nazi. Just garden variety fascist, you know, like China.
We beat communism fair and square as it was not working well in practice. The natural selection found in the biological realm has its political, economic and social counterparts. The Cold War was mostly about systems.
But fascism? While we beat the fascists in the Second World War, we have been wise not to be so triumphalist about the inevitability or the permanence of a victory. over fascism . That war was more about battles than it was about revealing fascism’s hidden genetic weakness.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war. But how are we being tested? What is at stake?
Generals, even armchair generals, tend to fight the last war. And so there has been no end to the instant replay from the couch of our great moments in battle.
For some we must be ever vigilant to stamp out dreaded socialism. It never works! Look at Venezuela! And if economic socialism is bad cultural Marxism is worse! Damn those sneaky Frankfurt School emigres!
For others the Nazis are ever lurking in the shadows.
I think it could be one of those Certs Moments©. Stop, stop you’re both right!
The Second World War helped usher in a new age, one in which consensus seemed to come easy. But was it so easy? Right and left have both been heard speaking wistfully of the age of middlebrow. But consensus was even then being engineered, and it ignored a lot of the multitudes that Whitman said the country contained.
Indeed the “plastic” nature of the consensus was one of the main vectors of attack against it. After what Strauss and Howe call the “high” of a Second Turning in the sixties the pendulum swung the other way, with the multitudes getting voice. Call it libertarianism or call it libertinism or just call it liberty if you will. It can be great fun, and exhilarating, to do what thou wilt.
Note that this principle applies to those joyously finding voice across the board: sexual liberationists, gay/trans pride and ethnic identity as well as flyover people given voice by Fox News, alt-Righties, Scalia federalists, and Benedict Option believers.
It is curious–but only if you don’t think about it much–that the some of former groups above tend to think of the latter as Nazis while the latter think of the former as socialists. What is going on?
To carry the Strauss and Howe argument further what is happening is that we are now in a Fourth Turning. The odd and hard to understand goings on are not a function of a high, as they were in the sixties, but of a low.
For fifty years everybody got up to dance, and they danced how t hey damn well pleased: the frug over here, line dancing over there, hustles, bumps, lambadas, gangnams, twerkings, electric slides, funky chickens.
When the music slows it is time to take a rest. But the dance has now been replaced by musical chairs. There are not enough chairs to go round, and as you search you see them being pulled one by one.
Deep down people begin to sense the dynamic: some kind of winnowing is inherent in a return to order. On the one hand that may bring about a new middlebrow moment– and we all have some fond feelings about the last one, don’t we? On the other, some dances will just have to be wiped off the dance card. Sorry funky chicken people!
Anger mounts. Fascists! Socialists! Racists! Cultural Marxists!
Whit Stillman has remarked that the eighteenth century is looking better and better. Just so. But a voyage to a current version of a classical era will require that many genies must go back into a very large bottle. And since we live life going forward there is no guarantee a new “classical” era must resemble the old. We don’t know in advance whose ox will be gored. The arc of history may move us back in a classically classical way, or a new classical may be quite different, Blade Runner, Xi-thought, Beyonce cults and so forth.
So are we all fascists now? If by that you mean, per Wikipedia, “a totalitarian one-party state . . . necessary to prepare a nation for armed conflict and to respond effectively to economic difficulties”– no. We are not there and there may be no need to go that far in one’s definition of the term.
But if the term is cleaned of some of its perjorative aspects is it not undeniable that all sides are partial to it in one form or another? We all seem to grasp that a society with intention, with a sense of collective identity, direction and–yes–will may be in our future in one form or another. That a bundle of sticks bound together with an ax may be stronger symbol than the funky chicken. We see that sentiment in many statements voiced on the right — but we see it just as clearly, or even more clearly, in the affection felt by many so-called liberals for the Chinese way.
The party is over. Time for the Party?