The conservative life cycle is in its authoritarian phase 2019-04-23 Virtually every day there some analyst raising the alarm about the surge of the far-right. While there is much to worry about, the phenomenon itself should surprise no one who sees the bigger picture. The cumulative effect of social, economic, and technological change points to the inexorable shift of conservative forces rightward, as they enter the repressive phase of their life cycle. To begin with, the ultimate telos of conservatives is the preservation of the capitalist organisation of society. Capitalism is the political order that is designed to promote the interests of the capital
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The conservative life cycle is in its authoritarian phase
Virtually every day there some analyst raising the alarm about the surge of the far-right. While there is much to worry about, the phenomenon itself should surprise no one who sees the bigger picture. The cumulative effect of social, economic, and technological change points to the inexorable shift of conservative forces rightward, as they enter the repressive phase of their life cycle.
To begin with, the ultimate telos of conservatives is the preservation of the capitalist organisation of society. Capitalism is the political order that is designed to promote the interests of the capital owners; where “capital” is “critical capital”. All legislation and every major kind of state intervention conforms to this basic principle.
Capitalism is the system that serves the needs of the platformarchs, as per my analysis on gigantism. The platformarchs are not merely “capital owners”, or “the rich”. They are those who control vital resources, factors of production, intellectual property, that are prerequisites to every field of endeavour in the given industry. Think of how the common business or private actor has to use Google or Facebook to advertise themselves online. Those two mega-corporations are the platformarchs in this domain, to the point where they function as de facto gateways to much of the worldwide web.
Conservatives pursue their end using a number of methods within the spectrum that exists between liberalism and authoritarianism. Their approach is contingent on the secular trends in the economy. In times of perceived affluence, they move towards the political centre, using liberalism as their vehicle. But when things go awry, or when notions of limitlessness to economic growth cannot be entertained, they turn towards authoritarianism. Either way, the goal is to preserve the status quo.
The fiction of the “American dream” is a case of the conservative’s turn towards liberalism. This is a time when people believe in the cornucopia of capitalism: everyone can become rich, provided they put in the effort. All are invited into the United States to work hard and live the good life. Yet the same people who preach freedom have no problem whatsoever propping up dictators such as Augusto Pinochet. The pretext is to combat the bugaboo of communism, while the ex post facto rationalisation is that Pinochet introduces “market reforms”. Structural changes such as these are the basis upon which the new class of platformarchs is established.
Now consider some more recent examples. Take the EU, which touts itself as a bastion of democracy, fundamental rights, and the like. These are the much-vaunted “European values” which are enshrined in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union. The European values meant nothing at all when it really mattered, as European policy-makers did not hesitate to force through austerity measures at all costs. They supported “technocratic” governments in Greece and Italy. They pushed through legislation under duress, such as when Greece had to adopt its third bail-out package. They stole bank deposits from Cypriot people in one night, using measures that even the likes of Pinochet would feel jealous about. Then they named this outright theft a “haircut” as if people’s hard earned money grows on the back of their head.
The EU’s metamorphosis at the height of the euro crisis should be all the historical evidence we need. Conservatives only care about capitalism. The rest are optional extras that are provided when the establishment does not feel threatened.
Overview of the prevailing conditions
With those granted, let us consider in outline form the prevailing conditions in mature capitalist societies, to appreciate why conservatives have to reveal their repressive nature.
- We witness an ever-greater concentration of wealth and concomitant power at the upper strata of the income distribution. This manifests as a starker distinction between platformarchs and platformzens (as per my analysis on gigantism). Oligopolies and de facto monopolies are the norm in virtually every field of work.
- The idea of a free market where all economic agents enjoy equal access to resources and opportunities is sheer fantasy. An expedient lie. Societies are inherently unequal. This is not just about income. There is a major divide between those relatively few who live in security and the many who survive in precarity, structural poverty, poor health and bad eating habits.
- Democracy gives way to plutocracy: the rule of concentrated wealth. There exists a symbiotic relationship between vested economic interests and the political establishment. As a rule of thumb, politicians who wield considerable power are those who are favoured by powerful interests. Democracy has already been usurped by an oligarchy that masks its machinations as “the will of the people” by using democratic customs such as elections.
- By and large, elections are a shadow play. They offer the illusion of participation in the commons and give the impression of choice: Brexit or no Brexit, the elites will be supported, Trump or Clinton, the cronies will win, Nea Demokratia or Syriza, austerity will persist.
- Small political actors aside, politicians do not have an independent voice. They and their parties are sponsored by the economic elite and have gained a life of their own, detached from any social base. They exist to serve their partisan, clientelist interests, i.e. to finance the fancy lifestyle of their administration and assignees.
- Meanwhile, automation and robotisation decrease the demand for cheap labour. Mass migration to bring down labour costs is no longer an absolute necessity. Similarly, the replacement of humans by machines and/or software algorithms, has eroded the power of trade unions, while granting ever more control to the capital owners. Hence the slow, but steady downfall of labour movements. Their electoral base does not exist any more or is too insignificant to make any kind of difference.
- Thus collapses the age-old norm of industries trying to prop up their local communities. There is nothing to be gained. They become purely extractive instead, siphoning their profits across tax havens, leaving mass unemployment and impoverishment in their midst.
- Their extractive nature and fiscal engineering methods contribute to localised bubbles, such as in the real estate market and relevant financial derivatives. Insiders gain from the boom, while the rest of society will ultimately suffer from the bust, in a variety of ways, such as through austerity measures, outright bail-outs to the banks and their friends, quantitative easing and other forms of unconventional monetary policy measures, aka free money, for banksters, etc.
- The support to insiders favours the rise of a new class of aspiring feudal lords, who capitalise on their gains by concentrating land under their ownership; land which is being eroded by the spread of gigantist thinking in farming, aggressive monoculture, and hubris towards the ecosystem and its natural constraints.
Tyranny is normalised
Against this backdrop, the conservative forces know that they have nothing to gain by clinging on to the tenets of classical liberalism. Myths such as the “American dream” can no longer be entertained. Only the few live in security. This is not about income: there still are small- and medium- sized businesses that earn a lot of money. The point is that in an economic downturn they will lose most of it, whereas those who are pampered by the state apparatus will come out unscathed.
What conservatives are now looking for is to reignite the politics of false identities, traditionalism at home and jingoism on the international stage. They are a means of keeping the oppressed precariat in awe: the best way to obfuscate the fact that the major problems of our times are germane to the political order they maintain.
The far right’s patriotic rhetoric is an invaluable asset to the architects of the new right. Whenever a problem arises, they can always appeal to the people’s sense of togetherness. Solidarity with “our” businesses. Every authoritarian regime to ever exist has resorted to this technique of externalising the problem in order to muster support for their domestic policies.
In parallel, private actors with vested interests perform the function of easing the transition from centre-right liberalism to far-right authoritarianism. Think of how mass surveillance has been normalised through the oligopoly of data capitalism and how, along with it, the private sphere continues to diminish. Violating people’s privacy used to be the hallmark of tyranny. Now it is popularised as a form of convenience of calling the overlords of Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft to perform such mundane tasks as switching on your lights with their AI. No part of your life is yours any more. The work of tyrants could not have been made easier.
Conservative forces operate in cycles and are growing aware of the need to move further to the right. Classical liberalism is but a convenient tool at their disposal. A quasi-religion. They follow its tenets when they do not feel threatened by liberal thinking, else they are ready to reveal their authoritarian side.
The shift rightward is part of conservatism’s life cycle. Under the prevailing conditions, it is inevitable. If there are any far-right movements that are distinct from the main conservative party, it mostly is to keep people trapped in false issues and dilemmas. Enough with this tale that “democracy” is under threat by extremists. The extremists par excellence are already in power. They assiduously use democratic symbolism to forward the agenda of preserving capitalism, while they allude to the spectre of “extremist forces” to rally support behind the establishment.
As for the solution, I believe it cannot be found within the confines of gigantist thinking. We need a change of paradigm. We must counter the juggernaut with continuous, decentralised action, localism, communitarianism, a return to the natural way of living. We must become one with our land. Build our new institutions and inter-personal relations of equality and genuine solidarity. Let us become owners, citizens, and guardians of our commons.