Thursday, November 26, 2009

Politics of Polarization in America?

Is it possible that the vicious rhetoric and the threats of violence coming from demogogues such as Glenn Beck, and the organized mobs known as Tea Parties, are potential prelude to a politics of violence? John Naar, an artist and political activist for most of a century, has coined the term "Weimarization" to stand for just what might be happening to American society. The historian Fritz Stern, who lived through the Weimar era in Germany, saw the rise of Nazism but escaped to the US to survive into the present, has just published a letter in the November 9, 2009 New York Times to offer a similar point of view. The cleavages between the political parties are growing, with the Beck/Palin partisans ousting moderate Republicans and thereby pushing the Republicans, who are always more disciplined than the Democrats, into a unified position on the far right. Think of the many proto- and not so proto-fascist parties, e.g., the French Poujadistes; Le Pen's followers; the late Haider's in Austria; and so many others, that had a similar rightwing-militant lower middle class anti-tax, anti-immigrant, racist, outlook. History offers too many lessons about the formation of a social base of the angry, the disenfranchised, and the alienated, all set for a neo-fascist politics that leads by its very nature into mob violence.

1 comment:

Alex said...

Hi Barry,

I just happened to Google you and came across this blog.

Interesting thoughts.

I think an important part of the reason that Beck and Palin have been able to find such resonance among a significant section of the population, is that Democrats have proved to be rather feckless in addressing the economic concerns of the general public during a very harsh downturn.

The president came into office carrying with him a lot of expectations that he may be the one Democrat finally able to stand up to entrenched corporate interests.

Esp. with the bank bailouts and the health care debate (with a steady stream of compromises mostly favoring corporate interests), that hope has proved to be badly misplaced.

So when the Dems have given up on what should be their strength (economic policy), the right-wing message is ripe to receive a much clearer hearing, especially given the racially "suspect" ethnicity of the president.

Slavoj Zizek has written extensively about the perceived jouissance of the racial "other" that was so pivotal in places like Weimar Germany and more recently in the former Yugoslavia , in creating the totalitarian narrative - I'm sure you're familiar with his theories.

Pres. Obama, under these circumstances, is proving to be especially susceptible to such a framing - which is why, I would claim, the birth-certificate story, questioning his ethnic/national identity has turned out to be so powerful, even when it has been completely discredited, from any rational viewpoint.

Anyway, this post brought back a lot of memories about conversations we had when I was a student of yours - about Fin de Siecle Vienna and Anti-Semitism, as it related to Gustav Mahler, Freud, Karl Lueger, etc.

At some point, I would love to catch up with you and tell you about my current plans and hear about your new book - I just ordered it on Amazon - looks wonderful!

Warm wishes!

Alex Varghese