I had never heard of James McGill Buchanan until I read, in today’s Guardian, a review by George Monbiot of Duke University historian Nancy MacLean’s recently published book Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America. I have yet to read and assess MacLean’s research and argument, but I wouldn’t be really surprised at the revelation of a “stealth plan” for, and prospects of, “totalitarian capitalism”. That was already the conclusion of political scientist Sheldon Wolin in Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and The Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism. Nor are Maclean or Wolin the first to express fears about totalitarian capitalism, only the most recent. There is also Jane Mayer’s related investigation into Dark Money. Totalitarian Capitalism has been anticipated in any case by other names such as “corporatocracy”, “plutocracy”, or “techno-fascism”. This has been a growing threat.
How likely an outcome and endgame is it? I would say very likely. It would be the logical culmination of Jean Gebser’s anticipated breakdown and collapse of the mental-rational/perspectival consciousness structure barring some unanticipated intervention and disruption of this dynamic.
The coming of some form of totalitarian capitalism — or fascism by any another name — was the chief concern of the old Dark Age Blog, which already saw that probability prefigured in Hayek and Friedman’s economic theories, in Thatcherism and in Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history” thesis, and in the elementary self-contradictions of neo-liberal ideology and economics upon which their creeds were based. Those implicit self-contradictions have wormed their way like a virus into the culture at large infecting everything, and now manifest as a mania and pandaemonium of duplicity and hypocrisy, if not a kind of schizophrenia, or what I referred to in my old Dark Age Blog as our own “four riders of the apocalypse” — Double-Talk, Double-Think, Double-Standard, and Double-Bind. These are the forms of our contemporary nihilism, and even self-annihilation, and they attest to the fragmentation and disintegration of the personality and consciousness structure of Late Modern Man, who now suffers, as a result, an “identity crisis”.
That same self-contradiction and value-nihilism that afflicts neo-liberalism is evident in Buchanan’s apparently influential thinking as well, as I note from Monbiot’s article
Any clash between “freedom” (allowing the rich to do as they wish) and democracy should be resolved in favour of freedom. In his book The Limits of Liberty, he noted that “despotism may be the only organisational alternative to the political structure that we observe.” Despotism in defence of freedom.
Buchanan is certainly not the first to come to dissonant conclusions about the proper form of society that absolutely contradict his ostensible value premises and assumptions — conclusions which annihilate those same value premises and assumptions by leaving them null and void. Can’t chew gum and walk at the same time, as the popular saying goes. Can’t effectively walk his talk.
These are the circumstances, mental and social, in which totalitarianism finds its rationale and appeal. The inability to reconcile the contradictions and self-contradictions leads to a violent effort to suppress the dissonance and the dilemma rather than transcend it, both in relation to the psyche and also society as whole. The repressed tension cannot be denied, however. The tension, inwards and outwards, mounts inexorably, “like a splinter in the mind”, as Morpheus put it in The Matrix.
Totalitarian regimes do not survive long, as you may have noticed, precisely because of that. In time, they collapse from their own inherent self-contradictions, often violently. But they can be incredibly aberrant and destructive while they last. And it is, in many respects, the inevitable consequence of confusing the meaning of Whole and Totality, the universal with the uniform, and as such evidence of a pathological state of mind and society.
Totalitarian regimes are the very antithesis of all holistic and eco-logical consciousness and thinking. And that is the real “clash of civilisations”.