Updated: Nov 12
On Veterans Day, and just a few days after the US Midterm Election which in several cases was about choosing between Autocracy and Democracy, it may be good to recall and recount some of the history relating to the fight for Democracy.
First, WWII was fought against Authoritarianism with a Fascism twist, joining in a number of instances with Communism oriented supporters who also were threatened by Authoritarianism.
Second, the Korean War, Vietnam War and Cold War were all fought against Communism, which was in effect subdued by the time the Berlin Wall came down. Enough with the Walls, we said, as Neoliberal Markets could now be spread across the entirety of the Spaceship with free trade and globalization. Democracy would follow.
Third, the Authoritarianism seemed to go away, too, by the time the Wall came down, or, at least was greatly subdued. Along with Communism, Authoritarianism seemed to have lost favor. Democracy in various forms won.
Fourth, overall, most everyone thought it was the End of History (as Fukuyama, 2006, 2022 declared), with Neoliberal Markets & Government by Democracy the Winner. Yet, said Market & Government had to be one without any shared other-interest in tempering the free-to-do-as-you-please choices. It was about being opposed to ethics (i.e., opposed to empathy tempering free choice) in a free to choose frame both in the Market & Government, and in the latter, with citizens turned into consumers. And, while Ethics are key, and Ethics evolve out of being in empathy-with the other, both Market & Government often became opposed to ethical reflection, and often anti-facts, as in unscientific & unethical. A true End of History, in contrast, would have to be built on a foundation of facts (scientific-method sourced) & ethics (that which reasoned people --- in empathy-with the other, the starting point to ethics --- could go along with).
And, related to all said matters, in the US the New Deal Order, which had a great deal of empathy-with content, too, was also dismantled by the Neoliberal Order. The Neoliberal Order of the Market won with self-interest only the driver, in a frame of Market VS Government, the latter being discounted and otherwise removed from tempering the Market, with said new Order being opposed to ethical reflection. It was no longer about the joint Tempered Market & New Deal Government, with arguably better balance in ego & empathy, self & other (shared with the other, ethics) -interest, that had guided the US through the wars against Authoritarianism and against Communism.
Ironically, then, while Communism is still held at bay, the Authoritarianism is suddenly back, in full bloom. It is represented in Jong-un in North Korea; Xi in China; Putin in Russia; Orban in Hungary (and, there are others in Europe, in the likes even of Sweden, and not surprisingly, Italy which traces an Authoritarianism line back to Mussolini); and Trump (along with way to many others showing in the recent US Midterms) in the US. And, Walls are once again going up.
So, what happened? Well, the Neoliberal Order (which operated during the 1970-2020 period, Gerstle 2022) does not work, because it concentrates income, wealth, and power, and is opposed to ethical reflection: The predictable Resentment is the main driver of Progressive Populism on the Left and contributes to Authoritarian Populism on the Right. The wealthy elites are seen as taking and keeping almost all of the wealth, and, then, buying power with same, on the way to cronyism. The New Deal Order (operating during the 1930-1980 period, Gerstle 2022) which worked to coalesce and temper not only the concentration of wealth but also to temper (again, ethics are key) cultural change in the shared interest was also dismantled. The individualized free-to-choose, self-interest only frame took over cultural change, too, especially in full force by the 1960s, and starting to be repelled by many opposed to such free for all change by the early-1980s. Tradition (and Institutions) had been taken down by being (too) free to choose (Deneen 2018; Rose 2021, 2022; Bromley 2019; see reviews of all three books in Lynne 2021, 2022a, 2022b).
It was all about individual consumers maximizing utility in both the Market and the Government (no longer citizens supporting the public good, but even in Government, it was only consumers paying tax T only for the selective private good supported by same). It was about what single interest theory in mainstream (Micro)economics preaches --- self-interest only --- as somehow inherently good and presumed (without empirical test) ethical. Yet, as Metaeconomics makes clear, the latter requires consideration of the shared other-interest (engaging ethical reflection) and cannot arise in just self-interest. The resulting market and political chaos was predictable.
The rapid cultural change, especially that coming out of the 1960s, stirred Authoritarians to arise again, raising up the Zombies put into the background during WWII. Said Authoritarians joined the Authoritarian Populists who were angered by being left behind by the Neoliberal Markets as represented in stagnant wages and outsourced jobs. Together, said Authoritarian Populists now include a complex mix (sometimes the same people) who were angered not only by cultural change but also by being left behind in income, wealth, and power.
And, then, to make even more sense of what is going on, Totalitarianism has also reappeared, in that it is almost always partners with Authoritarianism, represented in the fact that “…totalitarian regimes … keep their own subjects on edge and thus vulnerable to propaganda about threats, internal and external, to their nation’s well-being. In exacerbating fear and vulnerability, these regimes (work to rob) those under their control of the ability to distinguish between truth and falsehood, and thus of their will to resist (Gerstle 2022, p. 35).” Sound familiar? Claims of fake news in mainstream outlets; claims of stolen elections; claims that the opposing party is defunding the police, and, so stirring fear over crime; driving fear of immigrants; claims that scientists are tyrannical in pointing to life-saving vaccines; disparaging science in all forms; and stoking fear of inflation supposedly caused only by some other, an opponent who must be suppressed, come to mind.
The resulting candidates favored by many Authoritarian Populists egged on by Totalitarians faced off against candidates favored by many of the Progressive Populists in the 2022 US Midterms. It was more or less a stalemate, with the candidates favored by the Authoritarian Populists, several of said candidates with both a Fascist and Totalitarian frame, did not gain as much ground as some had predicted. Also, intriguingly, there may be hope, as the younger voters, the Gen Z trumped (no pun intended) the Baby Boomers, and in some sense saved the latter from own-self, in general being more in favor of candidates of the Progressive Populist frame. The only glaring exception is Florida, where the Boomers dominated: Where was Gen Z in Florida?
Now, back to Veterans Day: Way too many of the Boomers in the US whose fathers and grandfathers fought WWII against Authoritarianism with a Fascism flavor, often mixed with Totalitarianism, are now voting for US politicians with that frame. The same is true in many European countries. It seems the family stories (and history taught in the classrooms) about what WWII was all about have somehow been lost. Intriguing times, and, history needs to be reconsidered, pondered as we honor our Veterans. And perhaps even more importantly, we need to consider what Veterans will be dealing with in years to come, and hopefully not having to fight a similar war against Authoritarianism, again.
So, overall, Happy Veterans Day --- and, please ponder what it really means.
Bromley, Daniel W. Possessive Individualism: A Crisis of Capitalism. Kindle ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019.
Deneen, Patrick J. Why Liberalism Failed. Kindle ed. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019, 2018.
Fukuyama, Francis. The End of History and the Last Man. New York: Free Press, 2006.
Fukuyama, Francis. Liberalism and Its Discontents. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2022.
Gerstle, Gary. The Rise and Fall of the Neoliberal Order: America and the World in a Free Market Era. New York: Oxford University Press, 2022.
Lynne, Gary D. "Review of Bromley, D. W. Possessive Individualism: A Crisis of Capitalism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019." Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics 95 (2021).
Lynne, Gary D. "Review of Deneen, P. J Why Liberalism Failed. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018." Journal of Behavioral Economics for Policy. In press, 2022a.
Lynne, Gary D. "Review of Rose, Matthew. A World after Liberalism: Philosophers of the Radical Right (Subtitle Changed to Five Thinkers Who Inspired the Radical Right, Kindle Edition, 2022). Yale University Press, 2021." Journal of Behavioral Economics for Policy In press, 2022b.
Rose, Matthew. A World after Liberalism: Five Thinkers Who Inspired the Radical Right. Kindle ed. New Haven, CN: Yale University Press, August 16, 2022.
Rose, Matthew. A World after Liberalism: Philosophers of the Radical Right. New Haven, CN: Yale University Press, 2021.