Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Politics of Continuum, Part I

In the science fiction series Continuum North America in 2077 is under the direct rule of business corporations, which operate a police state to protect their domination of society.

In discussing the show's premise many casually label the show's "North American Union" fascist. It is indisputably anti-democratic and right-wing, but fascism is a specific form of such rule. Defining fascism in such a way that it encompasses anything wider than the Fascist party of Mussolini has always been problematic, but some analysts have made useful attempts to at least identify characteristics distinguishing it from other political forms.

To take one example, Chip Berlet and Matthew Nemiroff Lyons characterize it as a political ideology which "glorifies national, racial or cultural unity and collective rebirth while seeking to to purge imagined enemies, and attacks both revolutionary socialism and liberal pluralism in favor of militarized, totalitarian mass politics."1 Such characteristics seem pointedly absent from the world of Continuum. The political culture of the North American Union appears cosmopolitan, and neither celebrates a golden past, nor promises a golden future. Nor does it seem to display much concern with the mobilization of masses, or militarism as such. Additionally fascism tends to be at least formally critical of capitalism, and offer a vision of class reconciliation through a corporatist economics in which business, labor and a strong state ostensibly cooperate at an institutional level to achieve national economic goals. By contrast, the dominance of corporate power is naked and matter-of-fact in the show's milieu.

This makes the label "fascist" a misnomer. The NAU is, rather, a "corporatocracy," a polity directly ruled by corporations (not unlike India under the East India Company, prior to the Raj). This regime may serve similar ends to fascism (typically viewed from the left as capitalism's defensive reaction against socialism), but as shown by what is absent from the NAU's order, there are significant differences in the rhetorical and practical means they use to achieve those ends.

1. This description, which appears in their book Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort (New York: Guilford Press, 2000), seems consistent with compelling but less clinical analyses offered by other observers. Wilhelm Reich's description of fascism as the "mixture of rebellious emotions and reactionary social ideas"; and Walter Benjamin's characterization of fascism as a politics which organizes "the masses" around their self-expression rather than the self-interest it seeks to deny them, and "the introduction of aesthetics into political life"; both fit quite well with Berlet and Lyons' usage of the term.

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