Citizen Action Monitor

How leftists/progressives can counter the “fear and security narrative” of the American ruling class

Global interdependence and solidarity are central to the needed change, argues Prof. Derber.

No 2520 Posted by fw, September 10, 2019

Charles Derber

“But on the issue of militarism, I think it’s the greatest vulnerability and weakness of the left. … We need a genuine peace movement which sees the relationship between global capitalism, the emotional politics which the far-right has always used to create a neo-fascist society, and we have to talk to it directly. Enough of this, “thank you for your service.” This militarism is being taken into the American policing system. It’s being used to silence and destroy the enemy abroad in tandem with the enemy at home who are people of color, who are immigrants, who are liberals, and so forth. So I think we just have to develop and be brave about attacking this overwhelming discourse of security, which is making us incredibly insecure. … The alternative is a kind of international solidarity because the crises, particularly that the younger generation is facing, are global— global warming, global nuclear war. … remember, the whole purpose of the security narrative is to bind people to the nationalistic rhetoric of the people on top, ignoring the fact that they’re actually a global elite. So the alternative is a politics of global solidarity … which really shares fundamental interests in survival around climate issues and war issues and so forth, are bound together, in contrast to being split and united with their upstairs [elites] in their particular countries. This distinction between hyper-nationalism and global interdependence and solidarity, is central to the change we need. No question about it.” Prof. Charles Derber, The Real News

Charles Derber is Professor of Sociology at Boston College and co-author of Moving Beyond Fear: Upending the Security Tales in Capitalism, Fascism, and Democracy.

In part one, Wilpert and Derber discussed the problem of the fear and security narrative as currently propagated by President Trump and the Republican Party. In this, part two, Wilbert and Derber look at how to move beyond the fear and security narrative in order to avoid the slide towards fascism. Progressives have been notoriously bad at countering the right-wing fear/security narrative, says Prof. Derber. The challenge is to address the emerging dangers, of climate change, economic insecurity, and war.

Two personal observations, without prejudice, re Prof. Derber’s prescription for leftists/progressives: First, when academics, journalists and “experts” start doling out advice on what others need to do – in this case, “leftists need a genuine peace movement” – I can be pretty sure it ain’t gonna happen, because — Second, as members of the London-based Extinction Rebellion movement have so powerfully demonstrated, it takes so much more than words to build an effective movement. Above all, it takes trained leaders who know how to rally people to their cause and engage in grassroots non-violent, mass civil disobedience in the form of direct action on the streets to force government to take action demanded by a citizen’s assembly.   

The interview with Professor Derber is in two parts. Below is my abridged repost of The Real News Network’s original transcript of part two, along with the embedded video of the interview, my added subheadings, text highlighting, and images.

Alternatively, watch the video of the interview and read the original full transcript on The Real News website by clicking on the following linked title.

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Fear Mongering and Capitalism: A Recipe for Fascism? (2/2) — Greg Wilpert interviews Prof. Charles Derber, The Real News, May 8, 2019

ABRIDGED TRANSCRIPT

GREG WILPERT It’s The Real News Network and I’m Greg Wilpert in Baltimore. This is part two of my interview with Professor Charles Derber, co-author of the book Moving Beyond Fear. In part one, we discussed the problem of fear and the security narrative as President Trump and the Republican Party are currently propagating it. In part two, we want to look at how to move beyond fear and security narrative to avoid a slide towards fascism.

Professor Derber, you make the point that the left or progressives generally try to counter the fear and security narrative with rational appeals. But you point out that part of the persuasiveness of this narrative is its basis in people’s emotions. Before we get into how the narrative can be countered more effectively, talk more about how the left or progressives fail to deal with Trump’s narrative and also, how the Democratic Party more generally has failed to deal with it.

The left has failed to realize the extent to which emotion drives people’s political fear, preferences and ideologies

CHARLES DERBER Well two things, Greg. One is— politics involves a lot of emotion. People are not the fully rational beings that many of us on the left would hope that people would respond to around very basic, incredibly important rational things like climate change, which are being denied by elites and so forth. But people respond to political issues in a deeply emotional, visceral way. And I think one of the great weaknesses of much of the left has been its inability to realize how important gut-level emotion is in driving people’s political fear, political preferences, and ideologies.

Moreover, the left has failed to re position itself as a movement against global militarism and global capitalism

The second thing is, I think the left since the end of the 1960s has opened itself to this far-right narrative and the rise of far-right Republican politics by basically moving away from a critique of capitalism and the ideologies of security and global dominance. … Since the late 60s, the vulnerability of the left has been its inability to develop a challenge to this global security militarism…

And the problem here is, the left has to really reconstruct itself as a movement against global militarism and global capitalism. Even the very hopeful progressive wings of the Democratic Party in AOC, Elizabeth Warren, or Bernie Sanders’s progressive policies, they’re still very, very cautious about challenging the security narratives that are so dominant.

It’s a sign of how powerful this narrative has become and how much liberals and even much of the left, has created a void for people to really have some sort of vocabulary or understanding to challenge this whole global dominance.

What’s a better way for the left and progressives to counter the “fear and security narrative?”

GREG WILPERT So what would be a better way of challenging or countering that fear and security narrative? How could one appeal to it in a way that would also address that emotional issue in politics that you’re talking about?

First, the left should focus on “real” security issues, such as climate change

CHARLES DERBER So I think there are several answers to that. One is— first of all, there are real security issues. One is climate change, which can destroy much of what we know as human civilization.

Second, basic economic and social needs of the population that are not being met create a sense of insecurity

One is all the basic economic and social needs of the population that are not being met today and which create a general sense of insecurity. It’s sort of ironic that in the name of transferring all this money into the military and into these security aims— trillions of dollars going into these wars and into this militaristic global enterprise— in the name of securing people’s safety, you’re actually undermining people’s basic safety. So the security narrative produces greater insecurity. That produces emotional, very emotionalized politics. People are scared.

Capitalism today is very scary for many people who feel they’re losing their grip on both economic security and on cultural respect and well-being.

Third, people living on the edge have reason to be afraid, reason to react emotionally 

Half of Americans cannot afford to pay a $400 medical emergency bill without risking bankruptcy. When people are living at the edge, paycheck-to-paycheck, there’s going to be a highly emotive response to the security narrative because people’s emotions have been trampled on and people have a reason to be afraid. So the left, it seems to me, has to provide an extremely robust response to the fundamental economic, social, climate, environmental insecurity that is driving a lot of these emotions right now.

Four, the left needs “to move beyond siloed identify politics” and connect with economic, environmental and militaristic issues

So we need an agenda that moves beyond this more siloed identity politics, which has characterized the left since the late 1960s, after the 60s. And I think we’re beginning to see that now. We’re beginning to see both anti-racist and gender movements which are beginning to connect with economic, environmental, and to some degree, militaristic issues.

Five, the left needs “a genuine peace movement” which targets the relationship between global capitalism and fascist militarism being adopted by local police forces under the guise of security, but making us insecure

But on the issue of militarism, I think it’s the greatest vulnerability and weakness of the left. We’ve got to basically take these issues you and I’ve been talking about, Greg, and the left has to put that out there. We need a genuine peace movement which sees the relationship between global capitalism, the emotional politics which the far-right has always used to create a neo-fascist society, and we have to talk to it directly. Enough of this, “thank you for your service.” This militarism is being taken into the American policing system. It’s being used to silence and destroy the enemy abroad in tandem with the enemy at home who are people of color, who are immigrants, who are liberals, and so forth. So I think we just have to develop and be brave about attacking this overwhelming discourse of security, which is making us incredibly insecure.

GREG WILPERT I’m wondering though if there might not also be an issue involving people’s consciousness, for lack of a better word. That is, one of the reasons that I think this security narrative seems to work so well is precisely because, as in your book you point out, that it binds the downstairs to the upstairs of a particular country against everyone else. That is, against the rest of the world whereas what you’re talking about essentially as the alternative would be to connect the downstairs of the United States with the other downstairs. Globally against, so to speak, not necessarily against but more in opposition to the upstairs globally. So we’re talking about a different kind of solidarity obviously because right now the solidarity of the Republican or of the security narrative, is where it is nationalistic.

The younger generation of the left needs “a politics of global solidarity” one of sharing common interests

CHARLES DERBER The alternative is a kind of international solidarity because the crises, particularly that the younger generation is facing, are global— global warming, global nuclear war. And I think the hope here is that partly because of technology, of the internet, and so forth. All my students have traveled a great deal. They have friends in other countries. They’re more aware, so that I feel it’s true that— remember, the whole purpose of the security narrative is to bind people to the nationalistic rhetoric of the people on top, ignoring the fact that they’re actually a global elite. So the alternative is a politics of global solidarity where the global downstairs, which really shares fundamental interests in survival around climate issues and war issues and so forth, are bound together, in contrast to being split and united with their upstairs in their particular countries.

Out with hyper-nationalism, In with global interdependence and solidarity

This distinction between hyper-nationalism and global interdependence and solidarity, is central to the change we need. No question about it.

GREG WILPERT Okay. We’re going to leave it there for now. I was speaking to Charles Derber, Professor of Sociology at Boston College and co-author of the book Moving Beyond Fear. Thanks again, Charles, for having joined us today.

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