Notes from the Underground

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I tolerate this century, but I don't enjoy it.

All of the ephemera that is far too trivial to be bothered with elsewhere on this site or, depending on your point of view, a meta-commentary on it. This ephemera includes, but is not limited to art, music and literature. Most of the content here will be discussed in terms that are as abstract as possible, reality being a singularly overrated concept.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Terry Eagleton has been reviewing a history of fascism. Much of what he says sounds reasonable, though I'm a little inclined to think that if fascism is to be defined, historical and political definitions are somewhat limited; Umberto Eco's typology of an ur-fascism has always struck me as a more convincing concept. On the whole though, I'm more struck by the observation that ends the review:

"Liberal capitalist nations are becoming more authoritarian under the threat of terrorist attacks, while societies which were already authoritarian, such as China, are turning capitalist. The two systems are meeting each other, so to speak, coming the other way. Meanwhile, the globe is well furnished with capitalist set-ups that were never liberal in the first place, as well as with regimes whose former colonial proprietors exported market forces to their shores while forgetting to include democratic institutions in the cargo. The assumption that the free market and political democracy go naturally together was always pretty dubious, and fascism is one dramatic refutation of it."

I'm a little surprised that anyone should imagine free markets and liberal democracy to be necessarily contingent. Though the theory that argues for such a connection is far from being unreasonable (the notion being that only a framework of civil rights are capable of guaranteeing the conditions for capitalism, e.g. by safeguarding property rights), one need surely only consider the respective economic fates of Weimar Germany and Hitler's Germany to think twice about that. Alternatively, one might consider the economic fates of China and post-communist Russia (particularly now that economic confidence and an increasingly authoritarian regime in the Kremlin appear to be hand in glove with one another).

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posted by Richard 7:40 PM

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

An interesting piece on the collapse of European democracies in the nineteen thirties and Latin American democracies in the nineteen seventies, criticising the polarisation thesis;

"The theory of "polarization" described a vicious circle: An economic crisis drives voters toward parties of the extreme left or right, and low-level political violence breaks out. In the next election cycle, still more voters choose extremist parties, partly out of fear of the "other side's" extremists. As centrist parties weaken and the ground for political compromise vanishes, democracy collapses and the state is seized by one or another extremist faction... (However) In almost all instances, extremist parties did not actually capture the loyalty of very many voters. And in almost all cases, the great majority of the population remained committed to democracy even during times of severe recession and popular unrest. "

As an example, 81% of the vote in Uruguay's elections two years before a coup went to the two main political parties. At the same time, a poll found that 79% of the population supported democracy even with disorder to an ordered military society (though I might be inclined to suspect that the remaining twenty percent might qualify as a sufficient tipping point, rather than invalidating the thesis concerning polarisation). In particular, the note concerning networks of churches, unions, and fraternal organizations in Germany and Austria allowing Nazism to be quickly disseminated, in contrast to the view that "civil society" acts as a barrier against fascism, is well made. One might also note the collusion of the church with the Franco regime and the general role of the church in Latin caciquism.

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posted by Richard 8:44 PM