American Fascism

I've been interviewing McKenzie Wark recently for an upcoming project. Then came November 9, making Trump president-elect. Ken had just posted an interesting piece on mourning, but I wanted to ask him more directly about an old theme, American fascism. His response is pasted below. -AG

McKenzie Wark: It's curious that the political categories of liberal, conservative and so forth are treated as trans-historical, but you are not supposed to use the category of fascism outside of a specific historical context. There are self described neoconservatives, and even supposed Marxists have taken the neoliberals at their word and used their choice of name without much reflection. But somehow there's resistance to talking about fascism outside of its historical context. I have often been waved off as hysterical for wanting to talk about it as a living, present term. Even if it is admitted to the contemporary lexicon, it is treated as something exceptional.

But maybe we should treat it not as the exception but the norm. What needs explaining is not fascism but its absence. What kinds of popular movements can restrain it, and for how long? Or, we could see it as a “first world” variant of the normal colonial state, and even of many variants of what Achille Mbembe calls the “postcolony.” Further along those lines: maybe fascism is what happens when the ruling class wins. When it no longer faces an opponent in whose struggle against it the ruling class can at least recognize itself. And when it no longer knows itself, it can only discover itself again through excess, opulence, vanity, self-regard. Our ruling class of today is so like that. They not only want us to recognize their business acumen, but also that they are thought leaders and taste makers and moral exemplars. But our recognition doesn't quite do the trick because we're just nobodies. So they heap more glory on themselves and more violence on someone else.

Maybe any regime of power is necessarily one of misrecognition. All it can can perceive is shaped by its own struggles. But the fascist regime, the default setting of modernity and its successors, is doubly so. It can recognize neither its real enemies or itself. There is some small irony in an election being won because Florida voted Republican, when the Republican plan to accelerate the shit out of climate disruption may start putting Florida under water in our life time. I'm reminded of a line from Cool Hand Luke: "What we have here is a failure to communicate." Fascism keeps punching away at the other but never finds even its own interests in the process.