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Fascism, Theocracy, and Their Discontents (continued)

by Paul Kesler

Some famous Americans who might be called "proto-fascists" are Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, both of whom were principal authors of "The Federalist Papers" (1787-89), which favored government by an elite minority of commercial and financial interests over majoritarian rule (the latter was favored by that other main contributor to the "Papers," James Madison).

As delineated at the "Direct Democracy League" website: "The USA is a nation of dual foundings. The two foundings have their own sets of principles.…..[They] reflect the oldest conflict in human history: predation by the rich and powerful elites on those unable to defend themselves -- versus the rights of ordinary people to be free from elitist predation. In new-nation US history, the conflict is personified in rights advocate Thomas Jefferson and predator elitist Alexander Hamilton."

The perpetual war of these contradictory principles has insured that the American governmental system, despite myths to the contrary, has always been a delicate balancing act between the rights of citizens on one hand, and the "might makes right" pretensions of wealthy interests on the other.

Hamilton's offspring are legion, though the line of descent should be construed more in general than specific terms. They would include everyone from the banker Nicholas Biddle, who controlled the central bank during the presidency of Andrew Jackson, to Paul Warburg, one of the chief architects of the Federal Reserve (established 1913), to hard-right ideologues like Grover Norquist and Karl Rove on today's political stage.

As for "theocrats," they, too, have assumed myriad guises, ranging from the strident fanatic, Father Coughlin in the 1930s to relatively subdued examples like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell in the 1980s, and finally to Ralph Reed in the 90s and Rick Santorum over the last two decades. Of course, not all of these figures had aspirations to political leadership; nevertheless, all were highly influential figures whose viewpoints helped shape public opinion, so that they collectively laid the groundwork for a potential theocracy.

But how do we account for the unholy alliance we see today between theocracy and economic despotism? Just what do they have in common that makes such an alliance possible? And, finally, why create such an alliance in the first place, especially in a country where separation of church and state is one of its founding principles?

Perceiving connections entails more than merely separating authentic religion from the theocratic variety. That is because Christianity, always the dominant religion of America, has also been an "expansionist" religion from the outset. Part of this owes to its proselytizing tendencies, especially in former centuries, in which Apostolic tradition favored dissemination of its precepts to "pagan" and "heathen" foreigners, who were viewed as outsiders on theological as well as geographical, national, and ethnic grounds. But a large part also derives from the fact that the major Christian nations were also nations whose rulers wished to expand their economic interests by exploration and commercial trade. To cite just one example, when Christian Spain sent its conquistadors to invade the Incan empire, they carried their religion with them, and the ultimate consequence was that military victory carried religious conquest along with it. Some Christians even today view the dominance of Christianity today as "proof" of its superiority, without taking into account the fact that peoples victimized by superior military power had little choice but to surrender their indigenous religions as well. There are exceptions, of course, and occasionally the victors did not demand abandonment of local beliefs, but for the most part, "might" has made "right."

The central unifying elements behind the fusion of theocratic and plutocratic power are class hierarchy and the concentration of power in its own right. Without spurning the legitimacy of religion as both a manifestation of the human spirit and a touchstone for ethical guidance, it is nevertheless a fact that the major orthodox religions have throughout history been exploited by ruling class interests for their efficacy in controlling vast populations. It is, of course, the degree to which this tendency is exercised which determines whether the resulting societal matrix favors unification or dissent.

It should go without saying that democracy tends to undermine both monetary and theological hierarchies; it becomes especially threatening when economic stratification takes the more extreme form it has in recent decades. The constant invocation of religious imagery and symbolism by political representatives of monetary and financial interests should be seen for the manipulative hypocrisy that it is. However, regardless of whether one is a devout Christian (Muslim, Buddhist, etc.), any attempt to focus criticism of this form of exploitation on individuals alone is beside the point. Theocratic semi-fascists like Rick Santorum, for example, are for the most part "useful idiots," whose role is essentially that of polarizing the electorate through "culture wars" rhetoric. Apart from this, however, even the plutocracy has little respect for him, and now that he has dropped out of the presidential race, he can be conveniently purged from public debate. Whether Mitt Romney carries similar rhetorical flourishes into the political discourse over the next several months remains to be seen; however, comparable tactics may nevertheless be carried on through other means (media attack ads; mainstream news commentary, etc.).

We might also mention a sub-category of theocratic warfare; namely, the use of identity politics. This is most obvious in the case of the chronic attacks waged by mainstream media against what still remain the most vital social advances of the 1960s: civil rights, feminism, and homosexuality. It's common for leftists to believe that media attention to these issues necessarily reflects advances on these fronts. The mere fact that these issues receive frequent coverage is often taken by liberals to represent a move toward liberation, since, prior to the 1970s, these issues (with the notable exception of civil rights) were rarely brought to public attention. But without denying social advances on these fronts, we should never be diverted from the fact that the radical right, which owns and manipulates mainstream media in the United States, has its own reason for covering these issues, and that is to polarize the American electorate. Voters in America are still almost evenly divided on social and cultural issues between conservatives and liberals (constituencies with regard to economic polarities are another matter), and therefore it only takes manipulation of 1 or 2 percent of the electorate to determine whether Republicans or Democrats dominate the political arena. This is not to say that a Democratic outcome is a viable solution, since Democrats, like Republicans, are simply the "alternative" party of big business. But while such differing electoral results might seem almost negligible to the public, it does make a substantial difference to the plutocracy in terms of the degree to which fascist policies are imposed on the masses. The ruling class does not wage campaign finance wars in the billions of dollars for nothing, any more than Charles and David Koch provide millions to think tanks like the Cato Institute for no reason, or to "false front" organizations like the Tea Party.

All this is to suggest why liberals and progressives should maintain a focus on the most important issues of all, those of economics and class. When Milton Friedman formulated the essentials of global neoliberalism in the form of privatization, deregulation, and "free trade," it exacerbated already-existing class divisions and paved the way for the decimation of the middle class. As the late Howard Zinn observed, what the ruling class is waging is not a war on terrorism, but a war on us. And if we do not want to return to the two-tiered society of the McKinley era, we had better realize what the main objective really is.

It should raise our antennae, for example, when we see identity politics so prominently in the news, just as it should cause consternation when we see the chronic media stories about pedophile priests, and for the same reason. The plutocrats who own and control the media care little about these issues, but they know very well that the common people do. The issues are used to polarize and divert attention from the vicious economic war being waged against the working population – blacks, women, gays, and immigrants included. We should ask ourselves why the media should care about these marginalized populations when they clearly don't care about the majority in the first place. Equal rights are of little consequence when the boundaries of one's freedom are defined by the walls of a sweatshop. If fascist policies, glossed over with a theocratic varnish, ever succeed in reducing the working masses to misery, we will end up with a macabre form of equality, not the egalitarianism of general prosperity, but of universal poverty.

Future Prospects

So where should we go from here? Are there steps to be taken to liberate us from this narrowing world of options, either within, or apart from, the existing political system?

Clearly there is no single road to be taken, but rather a multiplicity of roads which, ideally, can converge in the distant future. I would like to mention some of these, not as a prescriptive antidote to the present crisis, but rather as suggestions for future debate.

I began this article by underscoring what I believe to be the core feature of fascism; namely, the fusion of monetary, financial, and governmental power. This necessarily involves corporate power, but corporations have traditionally been contingent on vast subsidies from the state, which in turn have depended on periodic loans from the central banking institutions. Indeed, the entire corporate system might have descended into long-term bankruptcy if former Treasurer Hank Paulson hadn't successfully lobbied George W. Bush for a multi-trillion dollar bailout in 2008.

So my first suggestion would be for liberals and progressives to educate themselves on monetary policy, and the manner in which central banks function. Two resources of merit are the long documentary, "The Money Masters," which can be viewed on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JXt1cayx0hs. (My only caveat is that this video makes some curiously upbeat references to Milton Friedman, whose endorsement of the project seems highly ironic in retrospect; perhaps this can be explained by the fact that when this documentary was first released, the more destructive aspects of Friedmanesque neoliberalism had not yet made themselves obvious).

The other main resource I would recommend is "The Lost Science of Money," by Stephen Zarlenga, who, since the book was first published in 2002, was instrumental in founding the American Monetary Institute. Zarlenga, together with other economists, has drawn up a monetary reform act recently introduced to Congress by Senator Dennis Kucinich (see the AMI website for many valuable articles and video resources on monetary reform at http://www.monetary.org/)

Whatever their differences, Zarlenga and the creators of "The Money Masters" agree on the central problem of the current system: namely, the fact that the money-creating power resides in a privately owned institution – the Federal Reserve and its subsidiary central banks. They also agree on the basic solution: to incorporate the Fed and the Treasury within the government, where its activities can be monitored and largely controlled through public involvement. They further agree that the usurious interest rates mandated by the Fed be eliminated, and that the "fractional reserve lending" practices embedded in the Federal Reserve system be replaced by a system in which the assets of the central bank are sufficient to cover transactions. In these ways, the U.S. (and all other countries that are part of the central banking oligarchy) can be held accountable for their actions, and funding can be more readily allocated to subsidize investments that benefit the general public (rather than siphoned off by inside traders toward reckless speculation on Wall Street).

Monetary and financial reform will go a long way to heal the wounds of the present system. However, many other things need to be done. Among these, our totally corrupt electoral system needs multiple reforms. Chief among these is the need to rescind the two pieces of legislation that made it possible for corporations to privatize the electoral process and flood elections with endless supplies of cash. These are the acts passed by the Supreme Court which first granted corporations the status of "persons" (Santa Clara County vs. the Southern Pacific Railroad, 1886) and the 1976 Act (Buckley vs. Vallejo), which first construed campaign financing as a form of free speech. Although the recently passed "Citizens United" Act has received an enormous amount of criticism, especially from the left, it should be realized that this act simply expanded practices that had long corrupted electoral funding in previous decades. All these acts should be revoked, of course, but without the first two, the third could not exist.

Needless to say, there is far more that needs to be done, but unless the money power of corporations, the Fed, and the banking system in general is vitiated, little else can be done. As matters stand, elections can help us little, except at local and municipal levels, and even here the process is often corrupted. In the meantime, we should do everything we can to build solidarity among ourselves by establishing local banks which serve our communities, developing independent sources of food through local farming and gardening (wherever possible), and forging greater solidarity between labor and activist movements like Occupy Wall Street. In addition, we should work toward replacing the current regressive tax system with a progressive one, so that the investor class contributes its fair share of taxes, thereby creating revenue for the restoration of public services. Fascism is already upon us, and, as the saying goes, only organized people can triumph over organized money. We are already well along the trajectory of a new class war, and there are many years ahead of us, even under the most optimistic scenario. But unless we enlist all our resources, the public gains made over the previous century will be lost. It is up to us to see that fascism – and its theocratic handmaid – are defeated.