The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum, a great variety of morbid symptoms appear. So said Antonio Gramsci, the great pre-WWII Italian political leader and deep political theoretician who set the terms for much contemporary critical theory discourse.
While waiting to be tried and executed in an Italian prison by the henchmen of the Mussolini regime, he made good use of his limited time on this earth by writing the seminal book, Prison Notes.
Gramsci anticipated the current crisis now arising out of the murky waters of mass politics in an age of cultural alienation and hyper-individualism. He recognized that deeper tectonic forces that shape culture are rooted in the material conditions of economic production. However, any accurate diagnosis of our current maladies must account for the durability of cultural forms from prior eras independently of a strictly economic analysis.
The central question Gramsci was trying to answer for history was: why did the socialist parties, who were offering an empirically better deal for the Italian working class, get defeated by the fascists, who were offering bread and circuses with the iron fist?
We are now in the age of fully spectacularized politics, which was born as a form in the impressive displays of regime power in the Italian Fascist League public stadium events and was perfected by Leni Reifenstahl in her film Triumph of the Will, based on the massive Nuremberg rallies, which etched the Nazi esthetic on our collective memory.
From that point forward, the antiquated 19th-century notion of politics as an Enlightenment-era debate in the mythical ‘contest of ideas in the marketplace of public opinion’ was rendered moot. We are now in the interregnum Gramsci noted; this is a time of monsters in which a “great variety of morbid symptoms” are present.
The fascist iconography of masculinized military power, a stable social order based on fixed characteristics that define our role in a hierarchical dominance society, and a nostalgia for the stability of traditional social norms enforced by state power have begun to resurface out of the collective consciousness of the West. That’s why Italy is now governed by a party that is a direct descendant of the Fascist League, Hungary is governed by an authoritarian theocratic regime, and right-wing parties are gaining seats all across the EU.
Here in the U.S. we have our own native version of home-grown fascism in the form of the MAGA/Q faction. Any plans we may have for a better society are contingent on politically defeating the reactionaries. We cannot be half Fox and half free. We cannot shirk the reckoning ahead because a nation cannot remain functional when we have two incompatible operating systems in a chronically unresolved contest.
When this dialectical moment comes to fruition, we will end up with one dominant operating system or the common ruin of the contending classes. You know where I have placed my chips.
The cultural yearning by the less educated or badly socialized elements of the populace uncomfortable with modernity cannot be discounted. They want a break from the endless personal moral choices and open-ended social networks that a neoliberal consumerist society generates. That longing is at the source of the global fascist revival. It has a dark atavistic appeal that we ignore at our peril.
For more local news, like the Mattson real estate investigation, the SDC property, negotiations with the SVMA and the Cultural Workers Union, or the union drive at the Fairmont Hotel, tune into local public access radio station, KSVY 91.3 FM. Please donate and engage with this valuable local resource. Check out my new show, Deconstructing Media, Wednesdays at 3pm, which breaks down the tropes of mainstream media, interviews local labor leaders and activists, and tracks the latest developments in tech.