Authoritarianism and Corporatism in Latin America Questia, Your Online Research Library
Since the mid-1960s it has been apparent that authoritarian regimes are not necessarily doomed to extinction as societies modernize and develop, but are potentially viable (if unpleasant) modes of organizing a society's developmental efforts. This realization has spurred new interest among social scientists in the phenomenon of authoritarianism and one of its variants, corporatism.
The sixteen previously unpublished essays in this volume provide a focus for the discussion of authoritarianism and corporatism by clarifying various concepts, and by pointing to directions for future research utilizing them.
The book is organized in four parts: a theoretical introduction; discussions of authoritarianism, corporatism, and the state; comparative and case studies; and conclusions and implications. The essays discuss authoritarianism and corporatism in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela.
October 15, 2013
(Image: Jared Rodriguez
In the aftermath of the reign of Nazi terror in the 1940s, the philosopher Theodor Adorno wrote:
National Socialism lives on, and even today we still do not know whether it is merely the ghost of what was so monstrous that it lingers on after its own death, or whether it has not yet died at all, whether the willingness to commit the unspeakable survives in people as well as in the conditions that enclose them.1
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For Adorno, the conditions for fascism would more than likely crystallize into new forms. For instance, they might be found in the economic organization of a society that renders
"the majority of people dependent upon conditions beyond their control and thus maintains them in a state of political immaturity. If they want to live, then no other avenue remains but to adapt, submit themselves to the given conditions."3
In part, this speaks to the role of corporate-controlled cultural apparatuses that normalize anti-democratic ideologies and practices as well as to the paramount role of education in creating a subject for whom politics was superfluous. For Adorno, fascism in its new guise particularly would launch a systemic assault on the remaining conditions for democracy through the elimination of public memory, public institutions in which people could be educated to think critically and the evisceration of public spaces where people could learn the art of social citizenship, thoughtfulness and critical engagement. He also believed that the residual elements of the police state would become emergent in any new expression of fascism in which the corporate and military establishments would be poised to take power. Adorno, like Hannah Arendt, understood that the seeds of authoritarianism lie in the
"disappearance of politics: a form of government that destroys politics, methodically eliminating speaking and acting human beings and attacking the very humanity of first a selected group and then all groups. In this way, totalitarianism makes people superfluous as human beings."4
The American political, cultural, and economic landscape is inhabited by the renewed return of authoritarianism evident in the ideologies of religious and secular certainty that legitimate the reign of economic Darwinism, the unchecked power of capital, the culture of fear and the expanding national security state. The ghosts of fascism also are evident in what Charles Derber and Yale Magress call elements of "the Weimer Syndrome," which include a severe and seemingly irresolvable economic crisis, liberals and moderate parties too weak to address the intensifying political and economic crises, the rise of far-right populist groups such as the Tea Party and white militia, and the emergence of the Christian Right, with its racist, anti-intellectual and fundamentalist ideology.5 The underpinnings of fascism are also evident in the reign of foreign and domestic terrorism that bears down on the so called enemies of the state (whistleblowers and nonviolent youthful protesters) and on those abroad who challenge America's imperial mission; it is also visible in a growing pervasive surveillance system buttressed by the belief that everyone is a potential enemy of the state and should be rightfully subject to diverse and massive assaults on rights to privacy and assembly.6
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During the past few decades, it has become clear that those who wield corporate, political and financial power in the United States thrive on the misery of others. Widening inequality, environmental destruction, growing poverty, the privatization of public goods, the attack on social provisions, the elimination of pensions and the ongoing attacks on workers, young protesters, Muslims and immigrants qualify as just a few of the injustices that have intensified with the rise of the corporate and financial elite since the 1970s. None of these issues are novel, but the intensification of the attacks and the visibility of unbridled power and arrogance of the financial, corporate and political elite that produces these ongoing problems are new and do not bode well for the promise of a democratic society.
Such failings are not reducible either to the moral deficiencies and unchecked greed of both major political parties or the rapacious power of the mega banks, hedge funds and investment houses. Those intellectuals writing to acknowledge the current state of politics in America understand the outgrowth of a mix of rabid racism, religious fundamentalism, civic illiteracy, class warfare and a savage hatred of the welfare state that now grips the leadership of the Republican Party.8 The new extremists and prophets of authoritarianism are diverse, and their roots are in what Chris Hedges calls the radical Christian right,9 Michael Lind calls the reincarnation of the old Jeffersonian-Jacksonian right10 and what Robert Parry and Andrew O'Hehir call racist zealots.11 All of these elements are present in American politics, but they are part of a new social formation in which they share, even in their heterogeneity, a set of organizing principles, values, policies, modes of governance and ideologies that have created a cultural formation, institutional structures, values and policies that support a range of anti-democratic practices ranging from the militarization of public life and acts of domestic terrorism to the destruction of the social state and all those public spheres capable of producing critical and engaged citizens.
Needless to say, all of these groups play an important role in the rise of the new extremism and culture of cruelty that now characterizes American politics and has produced the partial government shutdown and threatens economic disaster with the debt-ceiling standoff. What is new is that these various fundamentalist registers and ideological movements have produced a coalition, a totality that speaks to a new historical conjuncture, one that has ominous authoritarian overtones for the present and future. There is no talk among the new extremists of imposing only an extreme Christian religious orthodoxy on the American people or simply restoring a racial state; or for that matter is there a singular call for primarily controlling the economy. The new counter-revolutionaries and apostles of the Second Gilded age are more interested in imposing a mode of authoritarianism that contains all of these elements in the interest of governing the whole of social life. This suggests a historical conjuncture in which a number of anti-democratic forces come together to "fuse and form a kind of configuration" - a coming together of diverse political and ideological formations into a new totality.12 The partial government shutdown is a precondition and test run for a full coup d'état by the social formations driving this totality. And while they may lose the heated battle over the government shutdown and the debt ceiling, they have succeeded in executing their project and giving it some legitimacy in the dominant media.
Hiding beneath the discourse of partisan politics as usual, the authoritarian face of the new extremism is overlooked in the dominant media by terms such as "the opposing party," "hard-line conservatives"13 or, in the words of New York Times columnist Sam Tanenhous, the party of "a post consensus politics."14 In fact, even progressives such as Marian Wright Edelman fall into this trap in writing that "some members of Congress are acting like children - or, more accurately, worse than children."15 In this case, the anti-democratic ideologies, practices and social formations at work in producing the shutdown and the potential debt-ceiling crisis are not merely overlooked but incorporated into a liberal discourse that personalizes, psychologizes or infantilizes behaviors that refuses to acknowledge or, in fact, succumbs to totalitarian tendencies.
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Obama may not be responsible for the government shutdown and the debt ceiling crisis, but he can be charged with furthering a climate of lawlessness that feeds the authoritarian culture supportive of a range of political, economic and cultural interests. The American anti-war activist Fred Branfman argues that:
Under Mr. Obama, America is still far from being a classic police-state of course. But no President has done more to create the infrastructure for a possible future police-state. This infrastructure will clearly pose a serious danger to democratic ideals should there be more 9/11s, and/or increased domestic unrest due to economic decline and growing inequality, and/or massive global disruption due to climate change.23
The new extremists in the Republican Party are simply raising the bar for the authoritarian registers and illegal legalities that have emerged under Bush and Obama in the past decade - including the bailing out of banks guilty of the worst forms of corporate malfeasance, the refusal to prosecute government officials who committed torture, the undermining of civil liberties with the passage of the Patriot Act, the National Defense Authorization Act, the establishment of a presidential kill list and the authorization of widespread surveillance to be used against the American people without full transparency.
The current crisis has little to do with what some have called a standoff between the two major political parties. It is has been decades in the making and is part of a much broader coup d'état to benefit the financial elite, race baiters, war mongers and conservative ideologues such as the right-wing billionaires, David and Charles Koch, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Americans for Prosperity, the Club for Growth, the Heritage Foundation policy hacks and other extremist individuals and organizations that believe that democracy poses a threat to a government that should be firmly in the hands of Wall Street and other elements of the military-industrial-surveillance-prison complex.
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In 2004, I wrote a book titled The Terror of Neoliberalism: The New Authoritarianism and the Eclipse of Democracy.33 What is different almost a decade later is a mode of state repression and an apparatus of symbolic and real violence that is not only more pervasive and visible but also more unaccountable, more daunting in its arrogance and disrespect for the most fundamental elements of justice, equality and civil liberties
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To read more articles by Henry A. Giroux and other authors in the Public Intellectual Project, click here.