One of the dangers about history is that we are always vigilant about the dangers of the past yet fail to recognise them in their new form. Europeans in particular tend to get very concerned about neo-nazi groups who deck themselves out with Hitler tee-shirts and swastikas, and rant about Jews and defend or deny the Holocaust, as if keeping an eye on these headbangers is all we need to do. The reality, of course, is that those people are not as much a threat to our society as a distraction from the real threats to our free society. Fascism is back, and it won’t look comical. It’ll look and sound like you and me. In fact, it look like it listens to you and me, and that’s what has always been its appeal. Millions of relatively decent people in German, Austria, Italy, Spain, Chile, Argentina and other places voted for fascists because they regarded them as the least worst or most responsive option on the ballot. That’s what we need to be afraid of.
Fascism in the modern context will be the seizure of power followed by the exercise of power with little if any legal restraint, and not necessarily against the old foes of non-Aryans and Jews. Indeed, many on the hard-right have now begun to identify with Israeli right-wingers in their prejudice against Islam and Arabs, and are beginning to express sympathy towards Israel as a perceived “frontline”.
No, New Fascism will instead be fronted by articulate and attractive spokespeople who will, as their predecessors did, connect with ordinary people in their concerns, offering clear empathy and simple solutions as opposed to the old political elites with their talk of Troikas and IMF memorandums and fiscal compacts.
Indeed, it’s possible that the New Fascists will not be purely and ideologically right-wing in the traditional sense. Immigrants can of course be targeted as a simple source of problems, but the New Fascists will also be quick to defend the left wing provision of state services and welfare payments, and will point to an elusive and mythical super-rich as the source of pain and also funding. Political hacks like to put fascists neatly on the far right, but listening to the policy platforms of the BNP in the UK or FN in France is listening to an old style Labour party. Fascism is neither right nor left, but the concept of the party doing whatever it takes, and trampling over whomever it has to, to get what it wants.
The key to the success of New Fascism will be its recognition of the instant gratification seeking and over emotional society we live in. The reason, they will say, that you are not getting more welfare payments is not because you or your neighbours do not want to pay more tax, but because bad people in government hate you or favour other groups over you. The cold hard logic of spending versus revenues will be dismissed by an attractive candidate on the doorstop telling you that the governing parties don’t care about people like you. Already we can see someone like Beppe Grillo in Italy, who is not a fascist, but has won 25% of the vote on an emotional platform without having to specify what decisions and choices he would make.
The rise in the New Fascism has been helped by the professionalisation of democratic politics. With western politics now dominated by leaders who see winning the election, and remaining elected as being the overriding priority, they are losing the confidence of their voters sooner and sooner after entering office. Look at Francois Hollande, or Sarkozy before him.
It’s understandable, as politicans more and more build their platforms on an emotional promise which is almost impossible to deliver in office and certainly impossible of measuring in terms of delivery. Yet the system seems open to a self-destructive ratcheting up, where a reasonable candidate offering a thoughtful, measurable and deliverable programme will almost certainly be defeated by an emotionally oversold rival, who will then be incapable of meeting her voter’s expectations, and will then be defeated by an even more oversold opponent.
The problem for the democratic process in this regard is that it leads to a burnout of the conventional political system, as in Spain and Greece where both the centre-right and centre-left have been discredited by the failure to deliver, and voters look to extremist options.
The danger is not that the New Fascists will succeed in power. They won’t, as their platforms will be built on an evern greater amount of lies and falsehoods than the centrist parties. The fear is that they will attempt to dismantle the democratic checks and safeguards of the courts and parliament and the media in an effort to “get things done”.
Look at Hugo Chavez’s regime as an example, which can certainly have been described as New Fascist although not in a racial sense, but certainly in terms of a strongman approach to politics and the creation of an Emmanuel Goldstein-type “Daily Hate” figure of the United States as the source of his society’s woes.
But then, Chavez himself is a telling tale in terms of the attractions of New Fascism, because he was genuinely popular with millions of Venezuelans who were economically better off as a result of his actions. This is the final lesson to heed about the New Fascists: As with Pinochet, they do not just impose their will upon a society through sheer force. They create an attractive model which recruits people throughout society who feel that they are better off under such a system, and that is the greatest threat to an individual rule of law respecting democracy:
Wasn’t a huge fan of this 1987-1991 “teen” cops show, set around a special unit of young looking undercover cops. It wasn’t up to much, save for it being a breakthrough role for Johnny Depp. The theme song (sung by Holly Robinson, one of the cast) was very catchy, all the same.
During the 2012 US presidential election, a constant slur the Republicans used against President Obama was that he and leftish Democrats were engaged in “class war”. What was interesting about the attack was what it told us about the mindset of many US conservatives. Firstly, it wasn’t that they didn’t accept that there was a class system in the US. There obviously is. But they certainly believed that any sort of discussion of a class system was not in the interests of the GOP and its backers. Indeed, so surreal had the Republican reluctance to debate the issue become that Mitt Romney felt obliged to actually defend the rights of corporations in public. They were happy to discuss the wickedness of the lower income groups using the codeword of “welfare” but would regard the phrase “wealth redistribution” as being almost satanic in its meaning.
The 2012 election confirmed a debate that free marketeers need to start having with ourselves, about how we have let capitalism, which is the most effective means of matching limited resources to infinite demand, mutate into a knee jerk defence of the wealthiest in our society.
The right to acquire wealth is the driving incentive of the capitalist system, and works because it reflects a basic human desire to profit from the benefit of one’s work. The problem for the free market right is that it has begun to express a greater concern and thus allocate a greater right to the protection of acquired wealth than to the ability of those without wealth to acquire through hard work. Many conservatives seem more concerned about shielding the wealth of the obscenely wealthy than sharing the benefits of the capitalist system with the very poor. The problem with this is that capitalism, unlike communism, can not work without popular consent and the rule of an independent and mutually respected legal system. This means that the vast bulk of a society must believe that the capitalist system will reward them if they participate, and that the fruits and rules of that system will apply to all.
Look at, for example, home owners who borrowed solely for the purchase of a home and are now being pursued for failing to make payments, which is a very capitalist proposition. Yet they are being pursued in many cases by banks for whom the normal rules of capitalism were suspended, and a legal system which seems to express greater concern for the rights of those who can afford well paid lawyers over those who can’t.
On top of that, there is the fact that permitting an uber-wealthy class to develop which acquires a seemingly ever growing share of wealth is a threat to democracy and capitalism. The fact is that US political candidates now seem to regard pandering to wealthy backers (Republicans to the wealthy on tax issues, Democrats to the wealthy on cultural issues) as being just as important as winning the votes of actual people.
So here’s the truth: capitalism and wealth redistribution (whilst protecting incentive) are not and should not be mutually exclusive. Wealth redistribution is the grease that oils the wheels of belief in the free market, and there is a need for a new generation of centre-right free-market political leaders to say so.
Watching some of the debate on Sen. John Crown’s senate reform bill is an assured way of convincing oneself about abolishing the Seanad. In the debate, it becomes very clear that there are two types of senator. Those who actually want reform, and those who mouth off about it, and as ever in Ireland, the proximity to the ability to do anything about it affects one’s belief.
FF (the single biggest opponents to reform when they had the ability to actually do it) FG and Labour senators spoke about the need for reform as if it were an abstract thing to be decided by some Irish legislature somewhere else, and certainly not by them. Bizarrely, they seem to be hoping that the people will vote no to abolition in October and thus allow another 50 years of leisurely guff on reform. It is mealy mouthed and two faced.
The truth is that most of what the Seanad does is a waste of time. The FF, FG and Labour senators never rebel, even on this issue, which drives a coach and horses through the checks and balances argument they make. They don’t actually check or balance anything.
Sen. Crown has held off on putting his bill to a vote, presumably because some in FG and Lab may be willing to break ranks. Fair enough. He’s entitled to the benefit of the doubt. But I won’t hold my breath, and a Seanad that is unwilling to reform itself deserves to be abolished in October. Because, and don’t forget this: a vote to retain the unCrowned Seanad is not a vote for reform, it is an endorsement of the Seanad as it is today, and will be lauded as such by senators as an argument against reform after October.
Remember those scenes in the old Pink Panther movies where Inspector Clouseau’s boss, Chief Inspector Dreyfus (played by the underrated Herbert Lom) would hear Clouseau’s name, and immediately develop a tic, twitching his eye nervously, and eventually ending up in an asylum ranting and raving about Clouseau, and trying to kill him?
That’s British euroscepticism right there, wrapped up in an inability to approach the European question rationally. Instead, a blue flag with gold stars or a trigger word “Brussels” usually sets the ranting off, and off it goes, sometimes for days on end. It’s that irrationality, displayed by David Cameron’s fear of returning from an EU summit with anything approaching “compromise” that has Britain in its odd position now.
In recent days, Cameron and Osborne have been trying to staunchly defend Britain remaining in the EU, an organisation that they spend most of their time if not belittling, then certainly not defending. Nick Clegg gets lambasted, with his actual Britishness called into question, for suggesting that the EU is actually quite useful for Britain. Where will it all lead? That’s a tricky question, but one thing is clear. The events of recent days now means that any compromise by Cameron will be met with cries of “traitor” by the eurosceptics, because for them the ratchet only goes one way, and that is out. The more the EU is belittled, and the more aggressive the attitude becomes, the more likely that a vote will be held in the near future on British withdrawal from the union.
There’s nothing inherently undemocratic about that, except for the fact that most British politicians seem to want to keep Britain in the EU. But how can you sell such a bill of goods to your voters when you’ve spend years denigrating the product? It could prove impossible to get the anti-EU minky off their backs.
Continuing the occasional series about the TV shows of my youth, “Quantum Leap” ran from 1989-1993, and starred Scott Bakula (a very underrated actor, I find) as Dr. Samuel Beckett (!), a scientist who builds a device that allows him to travel through his own life period but by swapping with the bodies of people during those times. He becomes trapped, and is unable to return, only “leaping” to the next person when he rights a wrong in their life. He’s accompanied by a hologram of Admiral Al Calavicci (Dean Stockwell), his boss and best friend, who remains behind feeding him information about the people he inhabits from Ziggy, a giant supercomputer that can predict the liklihood of events.
The series was dramatic, funny and occasionally uplifting, especially when Sam occupied the body of someone who would not normally have his intellectual or combat skills. Memorable episodes included him leaping into the body of Lee Harvey Oswald, and also encountering an evil female version of himself. The final episode was noted for its bittersweet ending.
Senator John Crown makes a good case for reforming the Seanad in his piece here in the Sunday Independent. What I really agree with is the point that Seanad reform has to happen BEFORE the referendum if the Seanad is to be “saved”, which is right on the money. For my own part, if the reform hasn’t occurred by polling day I’ll be voting to abolish, because I just won’t believe promises of reform from professional politicians any more.
Will it be enough to save the Seanad? I’m sceptical, to be honest. The professional political class has dirtied its own bib so much with its bad behaviour that the public will be loath to miss an opportunity to get rid of 60 of the bastards. The pols have been so self-serving that any argument about democracy, keeping the executive in check, etc, are all valid arguments save when they come from lying, cheating will-say-anything self-serving office holders. We just can’t believe them because they have given us no reason to, having blocked almost every meaning reform and attempted to replace them with nonsense. Reducing the presidential term of office. Oh please.
Having said that, Enda still has to get abolition through the Oireachtas, which will be interesting. If the Seanad can’t even pass a reform bill against the will of the govt whips to save itself, its own checks and balances argument is bollocks. But how does he get senators and TDs (who seen the upper house as an insurance policy against election defeat in their Dail constituencies) to vote it through?
Here’s a guess: he’ll announce that even if it is abolished in a referendum, for various “legal and constitutional” reasons (read: guff) the Seanad will cease to exist at the dissolution of the NEXT Dail, giving pols a final 7 1/2 pensionable years to ease the pain. And just imagine what the last term of the Seanad would be like, freed from having to suck up to county councillors anymore. What’s the bets that most of the Seanad will spend its time in the US leaching off their titles on one final taxpayer funded upper house Bunga Bunga party?
For a bit of variety, an occasional series on the TV shows of my youth that really meant something to me at the time.
“Moonlighting”, set in the Blue Moon Detective Agency, ran from 1985-1989, and was a massive hit with its Breaking The Fourth Wall humour (remember the BMW horses?), witty banter, nonsensical plots and characters, and Bruce Willis as David Addison (in his breakthrough role) and Cybill Shepherd as Maddy Hayes. Also noticable for Mark Harmon (later Leroy Jethro Gibbs in NCIS, one of the highest paid actors in American TV today) as her love interest.
I used to think the theme song and opening credits were some of the most sophisticated things I’d ever seen on TV. And Cybill Shepherd? Wow.