Fascism has been catapulted into the mainstream narrative of late, thanks to the election of a certain Mr. Trump to the position of ‘leader of the free world’ (perhaps the most oxymoronical statement of them all). The comparisons to Hitler’s rise to power in the 1930s have not gone unnoticed, and the genuflection of the current administration to the ‘smooth transfer of power’ that is enshrined in Constitutional dogma has many rightly angry at their capitulation. There are obvious parallels with Brexit, and ominous precursors to what Le Pen, Wilders and others are attempting in Europe. The commetariat articulating the rise of fascism have much to be concerned about.
Furthermore, many MANY column inches (and whatever the online equivalent is) have been given over to how Brexitrump is a reaction to years of injustice; how many people (not just the working class of course) voted in reaction to the tyranny of the status quo. Neoliberalism’s limits have been reached; it is now the ideological enemy, and nationalist popularism is the remedy.
These two narratives are perhaps seen as distinct; in so much as neoliberal globalisation is being replaced by a proto-fascist authoritarianism. However, as I peruse the seemingly endless op-eds and blog posts (yeah, sorry for adding another….) I find myself returning to the seminal work of the philosophers Deleuze and Guattari and their warnings of how fascism comes into being, and how it relates to those who have theorised neoliberalism more recently. Wait, let me explain…
Neoliberal ideology, as we are now painfully aware, is the infiltration of competition, computation, codification into everyday life. In listening to Will Davies talk recently to WHFB, he gave the wonderful example of how hugging your child is no longer an act of pure desire, it is done because you think it may have a pay-off in their future emotional resilience and therefore make them better citizens. This is neoliberalism in a nutshell. Moreover, sociologist Louis Waquant argues that “neoliberalism is an articulation of the state, market and citizenship that harnesses the first to impose the stamp of the second onto the third”. I would perhaps also add our psychology to that list, in that neoliberalism attempts to marketise the inner-workings of our psychological and socialised lives. The arguments then that the recent political happenings are a conscious rejection of this are, I think, wide of the mark.
First, neoliberalism has been conflated, in parts, with globalisation. Many of the comment pieces, radio phone-in shows, 24-hour TV news channel interviews have pontificated about how the ‘silent’ majority of voters defied the polls and the ‘experts’. Voting to Leave the EU and voting Trump as the 45th President of the United States were seen as protest votes against the establishment; the global brokers of financial and political power. Remaining in the EU was to maintain the power imbalances across the UK and keep the banks and financial elites happy. Hillary Clinton was seen as embedded in the system, a pawn of banking industry to facilitate political avenues of further wealth inequalities. These are issues to be countered (and indeed, many people argued for ‘Lexit’ in the EU referendum). But globalisation has been the focus of fierce critique within social science literatures ever since Fukuyama argued for the ‘end of history’. The loss of the sanctity of place, the homogenisation of our cities, the movement of capital at the expense of community life and local jobs are all real and damaging symptoms of a globalised capitalist political economy.
Trumpism and post-Brexit nationalism may not represent the smooth global capitalism that their opponents did (even though they engender them totally), but they have utilised neoliberal ideologies in manicuring their ‘victories’. In detailing fascism, Deleuze and Guattari argue, “what makes fascism dangerous is its molecular or micropolitical power, for it is a mass movement: a cancerous body rather than a totalitarian organism”. They argue that Hitler was able to take power not because of his military might, it wasn’t a coup; he had an “unequaled ability to penetrate every cell of society”. They go on to articulate that the world is awash with ‘microfascisms’, everyday occurrences of people attempting to impose their own judgements or beliefs on someone else. Tutting at someone who gets stuck in front of you at the entrance to the Tube station because they haven’t got their Oyster card ready in time; shouting at a cyclist from your taxi because they have not abided by the traffic laws you have created in your head; berating your spouse because they eat noisily; the list is quite literally, endless. On their own, they are harmless enough (relatively), and very different to macro (or ‘molar’) level fascism that Trump is guiding us towards more and more with every passing appointment he makes to his administration. Indeed, Deleuze and Guattari argue it is “too easy to be antifascist on the molar level, and not even see the fascist inside of you”.
At the level of the ‘micropolitical’, our everyday interactions, it is easy to see how neoliberalism has created the fertile ground for the microfascisms to coagulate to the ‘molar’ level. The rising number of hate crimes are the result of these microfascisms been given the oxygen (via the continual rhetoric of bile spewed by the politicians) to expand, augment and be be realised. “Post-truth” politics (or more accurately, LYING) has provided more ‘room’ for people to actualise their microfascisms into everyday violence. And it is neoliberalism – the imprinting of competition and marketisation on our social selves – that has fuelled this. If we are constantly told that we are in competition with each other for wealth (self-help anyone?), for relationships (*swipes left*), for family time (“turn the TV off!”), is it any wonder that given enough rope, those microfascisms boil over? Neoliberalism has made us all into competitive animals and is destroying mutualism, social bonding and non-competitive behaviour.
So to combat the coming terrors of a Trump administration and Brexit-fuelled racism, and to stop the further spread of neoliberalised fascism, it requires us to be vigilant against all markers of its onset in our own social realms and lives. It means recognising the affective resources around us that can stop us from falling into self-interested behaviour. Brexitrump, and it’s forthcoming terrors requires a more collective, organised resistance – and that is something at least, that many of the op-eds pretty much agree on.