Reading, Watching 01.15
This is a (semi-) regular feature for paid subscribers where I write a little about what I’ve recently been reading and watching. Hope you enjoy!
I’m sure you’re all waiting with baited breath for more thrilling thoughts on the theory of “political capitalism,” but first this week’s Reading, Watching.
The Hungarian Marxist philosopher and dissident Gáspár Miklós Tamas died today. There is a fascinating and quite touching interview with him in the New Left Review from 2013. A sample:
Later, when my father was thoroughly disenchanted with the system, I asked him why he still called himself a Communist. He showed me a little plastic—well, I suppose, bakelite—cube, with six little photos glued on its sides: the portraits of some of the best friends of his youth, tortured to death by the royal Hungarian and Romanian secret services, or by the Gestapo in that awful year, 1944. ‘Because I cannot explain it to them’, he said. It was the perfect Christian idea: bearing witness, martyrdom as the theological guarantee of truth. They were justified by heroic death, and so was the cause. He could not escape it. Keeping faith in the teeth of adverse political experience, the rotting away of the movement, was the only course. Anything else would have been treason. Duplex veritas also: he never denied that ‘state socialism’ was a failure. His identity and his principles were at loggerheads. Some of his comrades, back from the concentration camps, had been rearrested by the Communist authorities, ‘disappeared’ without a sound. This destroyed him as an intellectual.
Tamas proposed the term of “post-fascism” to describe the rise of the contemporary far right and his concept turned out to be quite prescient. Here he is writing in the Boston Review in 2000:
Post-fascism finds its niche easily in the new world of global capitalism without upsetting the dominant political forms of electoral democracy and representative government. It does what I consider to be central to all varieties of fascism, including the post-totalitarian version. Sans Führer, sans one-party rule, sans SA or SS, post-fascism reverses the Enlightenment tendency to assimilate citizenship to the human condition
I’ve often felt that the defining feature of Trumpism, starting from Birtherism, was its hostility to the citizenship of its designated enemies. For me, the most disturbing thing the Trump administration contemplated was a reversal of birthright citizenship.
Tamás felt that his idea of post-fascism was vindicated by the consolidation of the regime of Orbán. Here he is in a 2015 interview:
You have written about what you call “post-fascism”. Do you still think that concept is useful to understand what we are seeing in Europe now?
– I have been vindicated, unfortunately. So yes, this is what we have [in Hungary, editors’ remark], this is post-fascism. It has all the democratic trappings, there is no need for a formal dictatorship. We have a minority media world, where people as myself can talk with no consequence for them – because it doesn’t reach more than 5 to 10 percent of the population