Michael Lind has an intriguing and deeply historical article on what he calls the New Class War in the American Affairs Journal.
If I am correct, the post–Cold War period has come to a close, and the industrial democracies of North America and Europe have entered a new and turbulent era. The managerial class has destroyed the social settlements that constrained it temporarily in the second half of the twentieth century and created a new kind of politics, largely insulated from popular participation and electoral democracy, based on large donors and shifting coalitions within a highly homogeneous coalition of allied Western elites. Following two decades of increasing consolidation of the power of the managerial class, the populist and nationalist wave on both sides of the Atlantic is a predictable rebellion by working-class outsiders against managerial-class insiders and their domestic allies, who are often recruited from native minorities or immigrant diasporas.
Will the result of the contemporary class war among managers and workers on both sides of the Atlantic be a revival of fascism? In some countries in Europe, populist nationalist parties have emerged from tiny fringe fascist parties, or have attracted their supporters. But talk about Weimar America or Weimar Europe is based on a misunderstanding of history, which blames fascism on populism. In reality, despite their populist trappings, most interwar fascist movements were favored by military and economic elites as a way to block social democracy and communism.
It is not the Weimar republic but the banana republic that provides the most likely negative model. In many Latin American countries, politics has traditionally pitted oligarchs versus populists. A similar pattern existed in many Southern states in the United States between the Civil War and the civil rights revolution.
When populist outsiders challenge oligarchic insiders, the oligarchs almost always win. How could they lose? They may not have numbers, but they control most of the wealth, expertise, and political influence and dominate the media, universities, and nonprofit sectors. Most populist waves break and disperse on the concrete seawalls of elite privilege.
In the American South, most populist politicians gave up or sold out. In some cases, like that of Texas governor and senator W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel, a country music singer, they were simply folksy fronts for corporate and upper-class interests all along. The few populists who maintained some independence were those who could finance themselves, usually by corrupt means. Louisiana governor Huey Long could battle the ruling families and the powerful corporations because he skimmed money from state employee checks and kept it in a locked “deduct box.” In Texas, anti-Klan populist governor James “Pa” Ferguson, along with his wife Miriam “Ma” Ferguson, who was elected governor after her husband was impeached on the slogan “Two Governors for the price of one,” sold pardons to the relatives of convicted criminals. As billionaires who could finance their own campaigns, Ross Perot and Donald Trump could claim, with some justification, to be free to run against the national establishment.
Those who believe in liberal democracy can look on this kind of political order only with dismay. Most of the time, coteries within a nepotistic elite run things for the benefit of their class. Now and then, a charismatic populist arises, only to fail, sell out to the establishment, or establish a personal or dynastic political-economic racket. Formal democracy may survive, but its spirit has fled. No matter who wins, the insiders or outsiders, the majority will lose.
This is broadly in line with my own expectations, but it tends to contradict anacyclosis and the Ciceronian political cycle, which sees tyranny following democracy rather than aristocracy. Of course, an elite that has learned the importance of keeping its head down may have had the wherewithal to simply skip that aspect of the cycle in favor of the amorphous vampire squid ink of the corpocracy and rule by artificial judicial persons, each of whom can support thousands of oligarchic insiders like a legal form of Lovecraft’s Nyarlatothep.
The section on Hobson’s predictions is almost alarming in its prophetic accuracy. It’s long, but definitely read the whole thing. I’ve seen what I personally call “the pirate class” in operation myself, descending upon every promising young corporation and seeking to either drain it dry or personally profit by offering it up as a sacrifice to a larger entity.