Four authors against global totalitarianism: Naomi Klein & Fabio Armao

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Shock Politics (Naomi Klein). Global Totalitarianism of the Clans (Fabio Armao). Relative Poverty / Era of Suspicion (Raffaele Alberto Ventura). Voluntary Unemployment (Luca Ricolfi).

These are just some of the concepts used by the mentioned authors to develop their reflections on the crisis of the contemporary world, in five books that are among the most interesting ones on the topic published in the last three years. Respectively: No Is Not Enough (2017); L’età dell’oikocrazia (2020); Teoria della classe disagiata (2017) / La guerra di tutti (2019); La società signorile di massa (2019).  All five deal with the crisis of liberal society, identify its causes and, whereas they suggest possible yet unlikely ways out, they show why things will get worse.

In No Is Not Enough. Defeating the New Shock Politics, Klein starts from the trauma she and millions of other Americans experienced in November 2016, when Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, the most powerful and best-armed nation in the world.

His appointment was for the American writer a nightmare come true; like Frankenstein’s monster, Trump summarizes the whole series of dangerous trends that Klein over the years has documented in her books: the rise of the Superbrands, being himself, thanks to the popularity acquired as a television personality and as a builder of the Trump Towers, a Brand; the expansion in the political system of private wealth; the global imposition of neoliberalism; the use of racism and fear of the other as a propaganda weapon; the devastating impact of a monopolized trading managed by large corporations on the lives of ordinary people; the negation of climate change.

The alarming shift of pace that Klein identifies in the Trump administration is that it is not limited to representing the interests of multinationals but has brought the conglomerate companies directly to power: Exxon-Mobil to the Secretary of State; General Dynamics and Boeing at the Department of Defense; Goldman Sachs in pretty much everything else.

The goal is “the deconstruction of the administrative state” (Klein, p. 3) and its rules by dismantling welfare policies and social services, encouraging the reckless exploitation of land for the extraction of fossil fuels, and promoting a war against migrants and “radical Islamic terrorism” both at home and in other scenarios.

Trump is labeled as the product of a system of thought that catalogues human beings according to race, religion, gender, sexuality, outward appearance, (dis)physical ability; he is seen as the product of a business culture that idealizes those who build their fortune by ignoring laws and rules and at the same time make war on public services and common goods.

Naomi Klein sees as the only way out the proliferation of groups, associations and platforms that bring together the countless citizens who are cut off from the elitist policies in vogue in the United States today. Demonstrating on the web, in the streets and in the squares to put pressure on politicians willing to be spokesmen of policy lines that are totally opposed to neoliberal totalitarianism: free access to the university; doubling of the minimum wage; 100% renewable energy target; demilitarization of the police; rehabilitation facilities alternative to prison for teenagers; reception of refugees; promotion of awareness that wars make the world more insecure (Klein, p. 263).

If Naomi Klein in No Is Not Enough focuses on the United States, Fabio Armao in his L’età dell’oikocrazia. Il nuovo totalitarismo globale dei clan (2020) extends the analysis of the new power networks to all the ‘clanist’ groups that are capable “to combine local and global institutions better than the old state institutions, at a lower cost and without the constraints imposed by the respect for democratic rules” [Armao, p. 10, (my translation from Italian)].

Organized crime, of course, but also ‘familistic’ organizations in Trump’s style in the U.S.A., or Italian “magic circles” (or “lilies”) and, above all, the dynamics of the financial elites of the Ceos of the large international corporations; all “clans” that are distinguished by putting economic (private) interests before political (public) ones .

According to Armao, we find ourselves living in the age of the Western countries’ “oikocracy”, i.e. a neologism composed of the Greek terms kratos (power) and oikos (which means home, family, clan, and is also the etymology of the word ‘economy’). The leaders of these countries are demanding more and more resources to be able to maintain the standards of their citizens’ lifestyles, while being aware that this choice implies a growing impoverishment of the rest of the planet and an increase in inequalities even among their own citizens. The latter are being made to believe that they are under siege, whereas, on the contrary, Europe and North America are the regions that have experienced the least conflicts in the world in the last fifteen years. The richest 1% of the planet holds more than 50% of the world’s wealth and is concentrated right in the aforementioned continents. This minority of super-rich people, moreover, has a tendency not to reinvest their profits in new jobs but to hold a large part of their assets in financial form.

Of the 258 million international migrants registered in 2017, in addition, only 4% (11 million people) lived in low-income countries, especially Africans (where the group of people over 60 corresponds to the 5% of the population against the 25% of the Europeans). Of these, only 12% sought fortune in Europe, which is just a single percentage point higher than in 1970.

Europe is the richest and safest continent in the world, and European citizens have privileges that other parts of the world just dream of. If you are Italian or German, for example, you can freely enter 174 countries, if you instead were born in Zambia in 63, if in Afghanistan 24. It is the so-called ‘birth lottery’, which by making “illegal” so much unskilled labor, leads in fact to label as “vagrants” many economic migrants. These are valued just as goods to be getting hold of in the most derelict areas of the planet, to which it’s also imposed the cost of transport before being sold as enslaved labor in the fields of tomatoes in Apulia or in the textile factories of the great fashion brands in Tuscany.

Yet charismatic leaders, who are taking the place of traditional mass parties, tell the story differently, mystifying the real data, while thanks to ‘pseudo-communication’ mass media and social networks they catechize with propaganda the alleged ‘people’ of which they elect themselves spokespersons. In recent decades, especially since 1989 (an year that is a symbol of the failure of the Soviet-led communist systems), a “neoliberal project of reorganization of capitalism to the full advantage of the economic elites has been affirmed”.

This project, which Armao defines as ‘neoliberal totalitarianism’ of the hegemonic powers, chooses a “shadow economy”, whereas the transparency of financial flows, the abolition of banking secrecy, an internationally shared tax system that would solve the problem of competition between countries would be the triumph of democracy. In times of globalization, on the contrary, the promotion of the concept of elite leads to the delegitimization of the very idea of equality between individuals and the fact that it corresponds to the attribution of real privileges. Instead of nurturing in their own citizens the sense of democratic social identity, the charismatic leaders of the West refer to an undefined community (‘the people’) that allows anyone to feel part of it, propose themselves as true interpreters of their will and theorize the superiority of a community of limited and illiterate social beings: “thinking of blocking migrants by building walls, of pursuing development by fuelling inequality, of embracing security by selling arms are today just as many high-risk political behaviours” [(Armao, p. 158, my translation from Italian)].

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