Neoliberalism is the slick salesman of fascism
If you listen to media pundits and politicians you would think that the emergence of proto-fascist forces arose in some working-class vacuum, amongst people who are infected with bigotry. Unlike their rulers.
The fault lies with unenlightened, uneducated voters who wouldn't listen to the ruling elites, thus exposing the flaws of democracy.
It's a handy, self-justifying, easy-to-understand narrative that just happens to expose class bigotry while ignoring nearly all of the important factors involved.
For example, consider the decline of the center-left and the rise of the hard-right in Sweden.
In order to survive under neoliberal hegemony, Swedish and European social democracy have moved towards the political centre under the banner of supposedly post-conflict Third Way politics. This is actually an adoption of neoliberal ideology, justifying market liberalisation, privatisation and welfare degradation as the only alternative. Over time, the move has effectively narrowed the political field and resulted in rising inequality. Today, Sweden shows the largest growth in inequality among OECD-countries.
As mainstream parties have started to look more and more the same, right-wing populists have managed to use ethnocentric xenophobia, welfare chauvinism and contempt of elites to attract those disenchanted by consensus politics.
Centrist neoliberals use social identities like race and gender in order to make themselves appear different from the hard-right. They also use these identities to avoid talking about economics and equality, because race and gender issues usually don't cost the ruling elites money and power.
As wealth inequality becomes a crisis in the U.S., politicians and the media increasingly focus on race and gender issues. It's not a coincidence. Their "solutions" to race and gender problems appears to be more race and gender diversity in corporate boards and Congress. "Diversity" never involves class.
The idea that a wealthy black man or wealthy white woman will identify by their class first and foremost never gets mentioned.
Consider the horrific example of Jair Bolsonaro’s victory in Brazil’s presidential election.
Bolsonaro, like Trump, is not a disruption of the current neoliberal order; he is an intensification or escalation of its worst impulses. He is its logical conclusion.
The plutocrats who run our societies need figureheads, behind whom they can conceal their unaccountable power...A smooth-tongued Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton were the favoured salespeople, especially in an age when the elites had persuaded us of a self-serving argument: that ghetto-like identities based on colour or gender mattered far more than class. It was divide-and-rule dressed up as empowerment.
Despite their professed concern, the plutocrats and their media spokespeople much prefer a far-right populist like Trump or Bolsonaro to a populist leader of the genuine left. They prefer the social divisions fuelled by neo-fascists like Bolsonaro, divisions that protect their wealth and privilege, over the unifying message of a socialist who wants to curtail class privilege, the real basis of the elite’s power.
It's not a coincidence that capitalist free market heroes like Hayek, Friedman, von Mises, were also fond of fascist dictators like Pinochet and Franco. When push comes to shove, a neoliberal capitalist will toss aside democracy and freedom for brutal and bloody oppression of the teaming masses in order to defend class privilege, and they won't think twice.
All of their pretty words praising liberty is empty rhetoric, because their definition of "liberty" depends on the supremacy of money.
The ultimate example of how neoliberal policies leads to fascism is Nazi Germany.
The economic measure that rose with Hitler's prospects wasn't the CPI, but 30% unemployment and economic depression.
The Nazis only won 32 Reichstag seats in the election of May 1924, and just 12 in 1928. Five years after the hyperinflation the Nazis were a political party without a future.
They were circling the drain of history, polling at less than 3%. They were an afterthought.
So what happened?
Germany embraced a conservative economic policy of austerity through the finance expert Heinrich Brüning.
Brüning's austerity policies were repeatedly opposed and defeated in parliament by the socialists and communists (an event that was considered a "failure of parliament" by conservatives), which led to pushing the austerity measures through by presidential decrees (Brüning called it "authoritative democracy").
These austerity measures included:
* rolling back salaries to 1927 levels
* hiking interest rates
* dramatically increasing taxes on labor
* gutting unemployment and pension benefits
Most German capitalists and landowners originally supported the conservative experiment more from the belief that conservatives would best serve their interests rather than any particular liking for Brüning. As more of the working and middle classes turned against Brüning, however, more of the capitalists and landowners declared themselves in favour of his opponents Hitler and Hugenberg. By late 1931, the conservative movement was dead and Hindenburg and the Reichswehr had begun to contemplate dropping Brüning in favour of accommodating Hugenberg and Hitler.
What happened was center-right and center-left parties backed austerity measures that crushed the life out of the middle class. The Social Democrats in particular undermined their own supporters.
When workers turned to any extremist party who could stop them, one that also hated communists and socialists, the conservatives jumped on board.
Neoliberalism is not fascism. It just eventually leads to fascism by destroying democracy. The process has been happening in America for generations.
A public reaction set in as the regime proposed to make radical cuts in Social Security and Medicare to make up the shortfall. But those plans failed. After that failure, Buchanan concluded, consonant with advice by Milton Friedman, that such entrenched programs could only be weakened and dismantled through disinformation campaigns. Democracy had to be squeezed. Why? The majority of “takers” will never accept open plans to curtail their benefits to reduce taxes on a minority of “producers”. The takers, let's call them for starters workers, the poor and the elderly, don’t even believe in “liberty”--meaning above all the freedom of entrepreneurs to roam freely in the market. So, you must pretend you are trying to save the very system you seek to unravel. Talk incessantly about its “crisis”. Divide its supporters into older, retired members, who will retain benefits, and younger ones who will have them cut. Celebrate the virtues of private retirement accounts. Propose to have the wealthy be removed from the system, doing all these things until general support for the social security system weakens and you are free to enact the next steps—steps not to be publicized in advance. Once you finally eliminate the system, people’s general confidence in the state will wane more.
Of course fascism is on the rise, when so much work has been done to undermine democratic institutions. It's simply a logical conclusion. Voter suppression programs, neoliberal court appointees, anti-labor laws, solidarity is a dirty word.
It wasn't a true conspiracy by the ruling elite that has destroyed our democratic institutions and gotten us to the brink of fascism, but you could be forgiven for believing it was a conspiracy since it has all of the elements.