Thursday, December 11, 2014

Mistaking Trees for Forests

We have watched, with a certain degree of schadenfreude, the rise of the National Front in France.   We have never shared Americans’ ill-informed fetish over fascism and we were pleased to see Marine Le Pen giving the European Establishment a discomforting run for its money.

We recently viewed two speeches of hers — one on May 1st of this year and the other at the closing session of the party congress in December — and were impressed with her skillful demagoguery. 

Marine Le Pen is a good speaker in the way that he was a good speaker.  She weaves her themes together with  a tissue of coherence coloured by sarcasm, humour and indignation.  For close to an hour, I found myself snorting, chuckling and exclaiming mais non! with the rest of the audience.  Her speaking demonstrated the difference between rhetoric and sound-byte. 

Rhetoric is a melange of sons et sens (thank you, Valéry). It is a symphony of notions which is enjoyable in and of itself and it is from this delight that it derives its persuasiveness — unlike logic which persuades in an ineluctible but heavy-handed kind of way.

With the possible exception of Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and the opinions of John Marshall, the United States does not have a rhetorical tradition.  It has a culture of homiletics which is similar but which differs from rhetoric in the way that a drum-beat differs from harmony.  Today, political discourse in the United States isn’t even so much a beat as it is a collection of singular bleats which simply punch the mind into a species of assent.

In contrast, Le Pen’s ideology and speeches are a complex of two essential themes: immigration and nationalism.  These are two sides to the same coin of Le Nous!  — which is another way of saying that the elixir of the Front National is essentially fascist.

I do not mean to suggest that Le Pen is a would be dictator.  Certainly not; and fascism, like any other ideology, has various facets including economic regulation and entitlements.  With respect to social entitlements, Le Pen is actually to the left of any American politician. 

But there is a spirit which infuses just about every varietal of fascism, which could be styled the swan song of ethnic nationalism.

It could be said that, ultimately, fascism does not concern itself with political-economy but rather with cultural-economy.  A country’s economy — that is, how it sustains itself materially — is always the fundamental  question.  The synchronization of a given mode of production with juridical and political institutions and with civic rights is what is called a “political economy.” 

It is typically the case that the one reflects the other.  A simple example is the correlation between political free speech and economic free markets.  Indeed, in the United States, the correlation is so intimate that the Supreme Court candidly invokes the concept of “the market place of ideas.”  Such a characterization is the ultimate fetish of the commodity or (in modern parlance) the “monetization of ideology.”

With fascism, the synchronization which occurs is between the economy and ethnicity (by which I mean an ethnicity and its ethos).  The economic interests of the state are seen as correlative with its racio-cultural institutions.  As ideology gets monetized in liberal societies, so money (economic interests) get racialised under fascism.  In either case there is a confusion of mental objects.

In the United States there is a knee-jerk reaction against European ethnic nationalism.  The notion seems to be that since the U.S. is a “nation of immigrants”  Europe ought to be one as well.

Ignorant blather.  What nation isn’t a “country of immigrants?”  Perhaps it is too much to expect Americans to be cognisant of the Doric invasions of Greece or the Mongol invasions of China, but surely they must know about the Volkerwanderung that gave rise to modern Europe.

The difference between the United States and Europe is that the latter has had close to two millenia for the influxes and confluxes of people to coalesce into those linguistic and cultural patterns known as national identity.  And, it bears note that these national identities were shaped by those cluster of geographically contiguous economic interests that became the various nation states of Europe.

The fact is that immigration (ethnicity) and economy are and always have been intimately related.  Tribes and nations wandered out of Africa looking for food and wander into other countries looking for work.    History is Immigration.

What Americans seem to forget is that the United States is a “nation of immigrants” precisely because it thirsted for a labour pool.  “Give me your wretched refuse, yearning to work” was not a policy drawn from the springs of altruism but rather from sucking sounds of economic greed.  American “open” immigration was the correlative to its industrial expansion.

Likewise in post-war Europe, demographically devastated by war, immigration was the necessary correlative to its industrial recapacitation.  Thus, the German economic recovery was literally fueled by immigration from Italy and when Italy herself recovered from Greece and Turkey.

In France the situation was somewhat different.  Its open door to former colonial Africans was the other side of its bargained for desire to keep an economic foothold in its former colonies.  At first the open door included the Franco-Algerian pieds noirs (referring to the black socks the French colonials wore); it later encompassed the peaux noires of French north, west, east and equatorial Africa.

The mistake the fascio-nationalists make is in blaming the immigrants for the economy instead of the economy for causing the immigration.

It is perfectly true that immigrants present a threat to the identity and established homogeneity of European civilization.  It is perfectly legitimate (albeit hazardous) to wish to preserve that modus vivendi which has characterized each and all of the countries in Europe.

But if one wishes to do so, one must correctly identify the true causes of the threat to national identity. In Germany, the threat to its national and cultural identity does not arise in Turkey but in the banker board rooms of Frankfurt.  It is the German economic boom which is the true threat of its “identity.”   Nor does it make sense to blame the European Union for giving rise to that threat, because — all in all — the “European Union” is just another name for the “German Economic Boom.”

Similarly it makes little true sense for Le Pen to blame the German Economic Boom (i.e. the European Union) for France’s immigration problem, because the French immigration problem arises in the board rooms of French extractive industries.

There is no doubt a correlation between immigration and “the present economic situation” in Europe, but immigration is a symptom not a cause.  The nationalist right in Europe is (once again) chasing after symptoms.

To be fair, Le Pen does take on the European Union in and of itself.  Her speeches conjoin the two issues of ethnic immigration and economic union (and to that extent subjects them to confusion) but she is not so stupid as to blame Africans for Brussels. 

What endows Le Pen with her broader appeal is that she takes on mondialisation squarely and face to face.   And, in this, she is absolutely correct.  Globalisation (and the European Union which is but one face of that hydra-headed monster) does present both an economic and cultural threat to France — that is, to both its standard and manner of living.   Of that there can be little doubt.

Were Le Pen to keep that focus and relegate the immigration issue to at least second rank she could avoid the imputation of demagoguery.  But I doubt she can do that because she does not have a true solution to the true problem.

For present purposes, let it be assumed as a given that globalisation presents a threat to the standard and manner of living of the nation states in Europe.  ( And let it be assumed in tandem that this threat will eventually catch up with Germany.)  The fact remains that globalisation is precisely that — an international phenomenon.

The illogic of the fascist programme is that it seeks a national solution to what is fundamentally an international phenomenon.  That approach is like saying that a disease which systemically affects the entire body can be cured by operating only on the leg or, even more stupidly, by severing the leg from the body.

It is here that the true difference between (real) socialism and fascism arises.  Since at least Lenin, socialists have recognized that capitalism is an international phenomenon which can only be countered on the same international level.  Retreating into national forts in hostile territory may provide a temporary refuge but ultimately will not work.

The flaw in the Gotha programme of the pseudo-socialists was that it assumed “gradual” socialism could be brought about within each country while those same nation states — between themselves as such — acted as capitalist competitors.  The inevitable result was either war or globalism, each alternative being driven by the inherent need for economic expansion (aka “economic growth”).

The difference between these two manifestations is that whereas war engendered oppression by one nation over another under globalisation the true nature of capitalism as a class phenomenon is ruthlessly manifest.  The international programme of austerity is not a plan for the domination of one state over another or of one race over another but of the “one percent” over everyone else regardless of race, religion or national origin.

Globalisation is a threat not only to the French way of life, but to life itself. It is an international phenomenon which must be met internationally and countered in all its aspects: environmental, demographic, cultural, political and economic. 

There is no partial solution to this threat.  It cannot be countered by environmental palliatives and offsets.  It cannot be countered by one-child policies or fomenting “family values.”  It cannot be countered by trickle-down palliatives.  Globalisation is an all-ecompassing threat which requires a total rethink about what it means to be human... not simply what it means to be French.

 "Oui, la France!"

In the end, Le Pen is barking up the right tree but, for all her rhetorical “charm,” mistakes the tree for the forest.

©WCG 2104

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