It is quite possible the new global fascism will end in a nuclear winter that kills most life on the planet—but it is not probable.
Three vast historical forces will likely sweep away the rightwing, nationalist, and fascist movements that have risen up in Europe and America, Russia and China, India and the Middle East. The only question is whether they will do so in time.
The first force is demographic.
Millennials have taken to the streets in recent years from Brazil to Egypt, Iran to Russia, demanding democratic rights and an end to corruption. They will soon begin taking power, and when they do, they will bring with them a penchant for innovation and an embrace of freedom. They are more cosmopolitan, open-minded, sane, and diverse than previous generations. Hence, we may now be witnessing the last dying gasp of the tribal nationalistic id. If demography is truly destiny, it is only a matter of time.
The second force is that of social media.
New communication mediums are always explosive. The printing press brought about the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. Radio brought about fascist propaganda in the early-20th century. And it seems social media has brought about Narendra Modi and Donald Trump in the 21st century.
But like so many communication mediums of the past, social media will eventually be civilized. The bullying will be contained, the politics will become more mature. And the people who so recently used it to manipulate the masses will find themselves once again marginalized. This will happen because social norms always emerge to contain social disruption, if only they are given time. In the meantime, since social media is not inherently rightwing but rather anti-elite, the rightwing nationalists who have so recently taken power all over the world will soon find themselves subsumed by the very forces that brought them to power.
The third force is that of globalization.
While globalization has caused much of the nationalist backlash, it can also undermine it as well. For the forces of globalization are far more powerful than those of the backlash. Trade will overflow the highest tariff barriers; immigrants and refugees will bypass whatever walls are erected in their path. Technological advances will continue to increase the flow of information, the pace of travel, the ease of shipping, and the transfer of financial assets. They will continue to make it easier to set up international organizations and to forge global communities. And they will continue challenging us to think more globally about everything from climate change to nuclear proliferation.
And it is just this global thinking which will lead us to widen our moral imagination and grapple with the multiple planetary crises in which we are now immersed. In a globalized world, power accrues to those who can think globally, because those who cannot are a danger to us all. And sooner or later, in an age of rapid information flows, the truth of the matter will become clear: if you cannot see the forces over which you are governing, your governance will fail at every turn.
None of these forces are necessarily liberal or good, but all of them may be put to good use. It is only a matter of time that they will take effect, but given the hazards that might occur in a world of nationalists with little concern for the other, they may not do so in time. And even if they can put a halt to the degeneration of democratic institutions in places like the United States, many of the forces that brought them to power will remain a threat that we will need to learn how to skillfully manage over time.
Most of the forces that have carried rightwing nationalist and fascists to power will continue undermining democracy over the course of the next century. Globalization will leave us more distant from real centers of power. Information overload will leave us struggling to make sense of what is happening in our own polities. Automation will leave us more economically divided. Immigration will leave our cultures more disrupted.
Preserving the liberal democratic institutions into which most of us have been born will thus require hard work. But the same forces that manifest in leaders like Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines and Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey will also undermine their rule. Doing so will require a global movement, built on these forces, that will knock down fascist governments from Washington to Moscow. Just the recognition that we are all in it together, and that there are sweeping historical forces that will sooner or later blow away now triumphant nationalists will put the wind in the sails we need to keep moving forward.
The Marxists used to have a word to describe the condition of poor people who were brought together in a single body in factories but could not recognize their common cause. They were tied together through the same productive processes that transformed them into appendages on assembly lines. They were tied together through the same poverty, which forced them to live cramped together in fetid conditions. They were brought together through the same forces of capitalism that pitted them against one another in the competitive economy. And they were brought together by the same class interests, which made them natural allies in political struggle, which they might win if only they would recognize their shared interests.
Marx called this condition “false consciousness,” because their very consciousness itself was a sort of denial of their condition. And it seems we might assert a similar false consciousness among the various movements for freedom and democracy in the world today. We are brought together by the same generational transition that pits so many Millennials against Baby Boomers. We are brought together by the same social media that are being used to undermine democracy. We are brought together by the same forces of globalization that lead us to compete against each other. And we are brought together by the same planetary struggles that threaten us all.
Then, as now, the solution is much the same: if you want to defeat the forces that have pitted you against those with whom you might otherwise live in harmony, the first step involves recognizing your common humanity. The next involves organizing yourselves into a global movement in support of your common interests. And the final involves hammering out an agenda more appealing than the fear and hardship promised by your adversaries. The only difference between then and now is that this time when we band together we will be doing so in support of the same democratic institutions into which most of us have been raised and working to resolve challenges that threaten us all.
The new global fascism will end: it is only a question of whether we will band together in a common global struggle sooner or later, and, if it is not now, whether it will be too late.
Author: Theo Horesh
Editor: Travis May
Copy Editor: Callie Rushton
Social Editor: Waylon Lewis