work in progress in social theory and cultural sociology

Consumerism into Fascism? (Part 1)

04.30.2015 · Posted in Uncategorized

In this first part I will argue that romantic consumerism is decidedly non-heroic and intuitively anti-totalitarian – I will try and explore the potential for totalitarian reversals in the second part.

I have argued that the now habitual condemnation of consumer culture as the central evil of contemporary capitalism is misguided and potentially reactionary. But there are proposed linkages between consumerism and a new postmodern fascism that have to be taken seriously. The most realistic scenario is given in J D Ballard’s novel Kingdom Come (as Alan Bradshaw argues) – which was an especially frightening read when EDL activism and international football events conspired to reproduce the imagery of St.-George-crossed suburban shopper fascism of the book. It is the dystopic version of the more playful Napoleon of Notting Hill by G. K. Chesterton. But the message is the same – at one point the bored citizens of a dull consumer society will turn the violent fantasies of the stories and imageries they absorb into bloody realities.

Looking at the German Romantics it is easier to see the dystopian dimension of such medievalism as here the ‘foreign’ ideas of the French Revolution and British industrialism were countered with a yearning for an idyllic and heroic past as embodied in the Ritter-and Burgenromantik , the romanticism of knights and castles, which was eagerly taken up by the reactionary post-Napoleonic princes. Wilhelm Hauff’s  1828  Lichtenstein’s  ‘cloud-castle on rough rock’ (Wolkenschloß auf schroffem Steine) leading Wilhelm Count of Württemberg (Duke to be of Urach) to have a fantasy castle built on the  ruins of the old castle featured in Hauff’s novel to mad King Ludwig II of Bavaria’s megalomaniac fairy castle Neuschwanstein (begun 1869, finished 1884) which via its 1955 reconstruction as Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle marks out that branch of Romanticism as one legitimate ancestor of the culture industries.

Recently there also have been suggestions that consumerism could be a powerful tool in the hands of  contemporary totalitarian movements, as in the so-called ‘Nipsters’  (Nazis adopting Hipster styles). In my next post I will explore in what ways there indeed a grain of truth to the Ballard scenario, but before doing so I will ascertain why it is only a grain. Fascists of all couleurs rightly fear consumerism as anti-heroic (Sznaider 2000) Kryptonite to their yearning for ultimate and authentic commitment to the death (as analysed, e.g. by Neocleous 2005).

What’s at the heart of that fear is the romanticism of consumerism which, as Campbell (1987) shows, derives from the 18th/19th century literary movement and which is, as I argue here, sustained by the structural romanticism of the medium of capitalist sociality, money. The most important characteristic of the Romantic is the unconditional commitment not to an imagined cause or identity, but to Imagination itself:

‘Magie der Einbildungskraft (Magic of the Imagination) is the title of the well-known essay in which Jean Paul defines the essence of romantic sensibility. How does it come about – asks Jean Paul – that everything, which exists only in aspiration (Sehnsucht)  and in remembrance, everything which is remote, dead, unknown, possesses this magic transfiguring charm? Because – the answer is – everything, when inwardly represented, loses its precise outline, since the imagination possesses the magic virtue of making things infinite. And Novalis: “Alles wird in der Entfernung Poesie: ferne Berge, ferne Menschen, ferne Begebenheiten. Alles wird romantisch”.’ (Praz, 1951: 14)

The commitment to the imagination is a commitment to alienation and inauthenticity. Despite being what Romantic suffering is all about, alienation is the price that they pay for their commitment to the imagination. To translate the Novalis quote: ‘At a distance everything turns into poetry: distant mountains, distant people, distant occurrences. Everything turns romantic.

The apparently reactionary aristocrat Friedrich von Hardenberg, the man behind the nom de plume of Novalis, fantasising about the Middle Ages, does not want to return to the eternal limitations of feudalism but dreams of space travel and unrestraint self realisation:

„Die Fantasie setzt die künftige Welt entw[eder] in die Höhe, oder in die Tiefe, oder in der Metempsychose, zu uns. Wir träumen von Reisen durch das Weltall — Ist denn das Weltall nicht in uns? Die Tiefen unsers Geistes kennen wir nicht — Nach Innen geht der geheimnißvolle Weg. In uns, oder nirgends ist die Ewigkeit mit ihren Welten — die Vergangenheit und Zukunft. Die Außenwelt ist die Schattenwelt — Sie wirft ihren Schatten in das Lichtreich. Jetzt scheints uns freylich innerlich so dunkel, einsam, gestaltlos — Aber wie ganz anders wird es uns dünken — wenn diese Verfinsterung vorbey, und der Schattenkörper hinweggerückt ist — Wir werden mehr genießen als je, denn unser Geist hat entbehrt.“ (Novalis 1981: 430)

[The Imagination presents us with the Future World either in the heights or in the depths or in metempsychosis. We dream of voyages through Outer Space – but is not Outer Space located within ourselves. We do not know the depths of our spirit – the mysterious Path leads Inside. Within us, or nowhere, lies Eternity and its worlds – the past and future. The outside world is the realm of the shades – it casts is shadows into the realm of light. Right now, of course, the interior seems dark, lonely, shapeless – But how different will it appear to us – once this eclipse is over and the shadow-casting object is removed – we will relish more than ever, since our spirit has been going without.]

Isaiah Berlin who, as secular Liberal, should abhor the paternalistic dreamscapes of the Romantics acknowledges the inherent if unintended liberalism in this attitude:

‘The romantic doctrine was that there is an infinite striving forward on the part of reality, of the universe around us, that there is something which is infinite, something which is inexhaustible, of which the finite attempts to be the symbol but of course cannot. You seek to convey something which you can convey only by such  means as you have at your command, but you know that this cannot convey the whole of what you are seeking to convey because this whole is literally infinite.’ (Berlin, 2000: 101)

And for the same reason Carl Schmitt, who as Catholic Fascist should relish the Romantic lore intuitively and rightly understands it as the essence of the civilisational element that undermines the Fascist project of the total movement state, consumerism, which is averse to the commitment to action he takes from Goethe’s Faust (“Im Anfang war die Tat” – “In the beginning was the deed”).

„Die romantische Generation, Ende des 18. Jahrhunderts, war nun in einer besonders schwierigen Lage. Sie hatte eine Generation vor sich, deren Leistungen klassisch waren und deren größtem Vertreter, Goethe, gegenüber sie keine andere Produktivität als einen gesteigerten bewundernden Enthusiasmus aufzuweisen hatten. Ihre Leistung war Kritik und Charakteristik; alles was sie darüber hinaus prätendierten, war bloße Möglichkeit. Sie machten verwegene Pläne und kühne Versprechungen, deuteten an und stellten in Aussicht, beantworteten jede Erwartung einer Erfüllung ihrer Versprechen mit neuen Versprechen, zogen sich von der Kunst in die Philosophie, ind die Geschichte, die Politik, die Theologie zurück, aber die ungeheuren Möglichkeiten, die sie der Wirklichkeit entgegengehalten hatten, wurden niemals Wirklichkeit. Die romantische Lösung dieser Schwierigkeit besteht | darin, daß die Möglichkeit als die höhere Kategorie hingestellt wird. Die Rolle des weltproduzierenden Ich kann man nicht in der gewöhnlichen Wirklichkeit spielen; den Zustand ewigen Werdens und nie sich vollendender Möglichkeiten zogen sie der Beschränktheit konkreter Wirklichkeit vor. Denn realisiert wird ja immer nur eine der unzähligen Möglichkeiten, im Augenblick der Realisierung sind alle andern unendlichen Möglichkeiten präkludiert, eine Welt ist vernichtet für eine bornierte Realität, die ‘Fülle der Idee’ einer armseligen Bestimmtheit geopfert. Jedes gesprochene Wort ist deshalb schon eine Unwahrheit, es beschränkt den schrankenlosen Gedanken; jede Definition ist ein totes, mechanisches Ding, es definiert das indefinite Leben; jede Begründung ist falsch, denn mit dem Grund ist immer auch eine Grenze gegeben. Jetzt kehrt sich also das Verhältnis um; nicht die Möglichkeit ist leer, sondern die Wirklichkeit, nicht die abstrakte Form, sondern der positive Inhalt.” (Schmitt, 1919: 59f.)

‘‘The romantic generation, the end of the eighteenth century, was in an especially difficult situation. They were confronted with a generation whose achievements were classical; and in response to its greatest representative, Goethe, the only productivity they had exhibited was admiring and intense enthusiasm. Their output lay in the domain of criticism and character sketches. All their pretensions that lay beyond that were merely possibility. They made audacious plans and bold promises. They made intimations and held out prospects. They responded to every expectation of a fulfillment of their promises with new promises. They withdrew from art into philosophy, history, politics, and theology. But the enormous possibilities that they had opposed to reality never became reality. The romantic solution to this difficulty consists in representing possibility as the higher category. In commonplace reality, the romantics could not play the role of the ego who creates the world. They preferred the state of eternal becoming and possibilities that are never consummated to the confines of concrete reality. This is because only one of the numerous possibilities is ever realized. In the moment of realization, all of the other infinite possibilities are precluded. A world is destroyed for a narrow-minded reality. The “fullness of the idea” is sacrificed to a wretched specifity. In consequence, every spoken word is already a falsehood. It limits unbounded thought. Every definition is a lifeless, mechanical thing. It defines indefinite life. Every foundation is false; for with the foundation, a limit is always given as well. Now, therefore, the relationship is reversed. It is not possibility that is empty, but rather reality, not abstract form, but rather positive content.’ (Schmitt, 1986: 66)

Berlin interprets this as an non-intentional, but intuitively compelling liberal stance in which mutual tolerance is enforced by the insight that the realisation of even only few of those grand designs would in the end destroy them all – so they have to remain in the realm of the imagination.

‘Here are the romantics, whose chief burden is to destroy ordinary tolerant life, to destroy philistinism, to destroy common sense, to destroy the peaceful evocations of men, to raise everybody to some passionate level of self expressive experience, of such kind as perhaps only divinities, in other works of literature were supposed to manifest. This is the ostensible purpose of romanticism, whether among the Germans or in Byron or among the  French, or whoever it may be; and yet, as a result of driving wedges into the notion of the classical ideal of the single answer to all questions, of the rationalisability of everything, of the answerability of all questions, of the whole jigsaw-puzzle conception of life, they have given prominence to and laid emphasis upon the incompatibility of ideals. But if these ideals are incompatible, then human beings sooner or later realise that they must make to, they must make compromises, because if they seek to destroy others, others will seek to destroy them; and so, as a result of this passionate, fanatical, half-mad doctrine, we arrive at an appreciation of the necessity of tolerating others, the necessity of preserving an imperfect equilibrium in human affairs, the impossibility of driving human beings so far into the pen which we have created for them, or into the single solution which possesses us, that they will ultimately revolt against us, or at any rate be crushed by it. The result of romanticism, then, is liberalism…’ (Berlin, 2000: 146f.)

The danger posed by this intuitive liberalism to those peddling totalitarian programmes is greater than that posed by explicitly liberal and egalitarian programmes as it is not thought out but felt. And it is both pleasurable and safe. Schmitt is very specific about what he sees threatened here, and he honours Novalis by making him the main target of his attack, thus confirming that behind the medievalising romance lies an egalitarian and cosmopolitan utopia. And that implicit utopia threatens what the Fascist psyche in its ambiguity intolerance (Frenkel-Brunswik 1949) needs most: clear categorical difference of ethnicity/race and religion which Schmitt, via the notion of a ‘substanceless form’ links to the medium I think is functional in carrying over the Romantic impulse into consumer culture – money:

„Die substanzlosen Formen lassen sich zu jedem Inhalt in Beziehung setzen; in der romantischen Anarchie kann jeder sich seine Welt gestalten und jedes Wort zum Gefäß unendlicher Möglichkeiten machen. Wenn Novalis davon spricht, daß er an die Gestalten von Brot und Wein glaube, so sollte man ihm keinen anderen Glauben entgegenbringen, as den, den er selbst hat: er mein nämlich, daß Alles Brot und Wein sein kann. Er glaubt an die Bibel, aber jedes echte Buch ist eine Bibel, an das Genie, aber jeder Mensch ist ein Genie, an den Deutschen, aber Deutsche gibt es überall, die Deutschheit ist für ihn, trotz des historischen Empfindens der Romantik, nicht auf Staat und Rasse beschränkt; er rühmt die Antike, aber Antike ist überall, wo echter Geist ist; er bekennt sich als Royalisten und Monarchisten, aber ‚alle Menschen sollen thronfähig werden‘.“ (Schmitt, 1919: 72f.)

Forms without substance can be related to any content. In the romantic anarchy, everyone can form his own world, elevate every word and every sound to a vessel of infinite possibilities, and | transform every situation and every event in a romantic fashion, just as Bettina von Arnim does in her epistolary novels. If Novalis says that he believes in the forms of bread and wine in Communion, then  we should not ascribe to him a belief different from the one he himself has: Namely, he thinks that everything can be bread and wine. He believes in the Bible; but every authentic book is a Bible. He believes in genius; but every person is a genius. He believes in the Germans; but there are Germans everywhere. In spite of the alleged historical sensitivity of romanticism, for him the German character is not limited to a state and a race. It is not even limited to Germany. The French, in particular, are said to have received a portion of the German character as a result of the revolution of 1789. He declares himself to be a royalist and a monarchist; but “every person should be able to assume the throne.”’ (Schmitt, 1986: 77)


nazischmittzeitung

Particularly the idea that everyone could be a German really bothered the persistent antisemite Schmitt. It was not opportunism but genuine joy in discrimination that led to his endorsement of the Nuremberg Race Laws as a ‘constitution of freedom’. Natan Sznaider therefore is right to formulate his own consumerist antinationalism explicitly against Schmitt’s friend/enemy politics. Commodification of everything, he asserts,

‘allows people to choose elements from various cultural traditions and blend them into a new identity. The same process also makes it easier for people to stray from their ‘‘original’’ identities — or in conventional terms, to integrate into society. Uncommodified ethnic identities are closed to outsiders, and raise the costs for straying outside their walls: one either is or isn’t. It’s a big decision. But the more it becomes accepted that identity can be adequately manifested through symbolic gestures, that one can throw out large parts of tradition and still be accepted as part of the group, the more people are free to experiment without risking being cut off from their roots. These new ethnic identities are not necessarily weaker than the old ones. But mix and match identities are by definitions easier to mix and match. They are wholes that can interpenetrate each other through the choices of individuals that belong more than one.’ (Sznaider 2000: 307f.)

Sznaider is not naive in his projection of post-national identification in consumer societies. He sees the danger of creating a counter move by those excluded from the market to violently assert their identities in completely un-ironic ways. But the link of consumerism to a potential totalitarian turn is not entirely negative – there remains a yearning for the absolute which is blocked out in the form of the romantic dream, but preserved in their content. A catastrophic reversal from fiction to reality is thematic in quite a lot of Romantic and consumer-romantic cultural product, from Ludwig Tieck’s  Hexensabbat  to Jumanji.

Berlin, Isaiah (2000): The Roots of Romanticism: The A. W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts, 1965. The National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.: London: Pimlico.

Frenkel-Brunswik, Else (1949): ‘Intolerance of Ambiguity as an Emotional and Perceptual Personality Variable’, in: Journal of Personality, Vol.18, no.1, pp.108-143.

Neocleous, Mark (2005): ‘Long live death! Fascism, resurrection, immortality’ Journal of Political Ideologies, Vol.10, No.1: 31-49.

Novalis (1981): ‘Vermischte Bemerkungen/Blüthenstaub 1797/98(Synoptischer Paralleldruck)’. In: Werke in einem Band, München/Wien: Carl Hanser, pp.423-83.

Praz, Mario (1951): The Romantic Agony, London: Oxford University Press.

Schmitt, Carl (1986): Political Romanticism, translated by Guy Oakes, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press

Schmitt-Dorotić, Carl (1919): Politische Romantik, München/Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot.

Sznaider, Natan (2000): Consumerism as Civilizing Process: Israel and Judaism in the Second Age of Modernity, International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society, Vol.14, pp.297-314.

5 Responses to “Consumerism into Fascism? (Part 1)”

  1. I dunno if you read French but there is this interesting article by Eric Michaud where he tackles the common ground between Sorel’s theory of myth, and the early psychological thought behind advertising:
    http://www.cairn.info/revue-mil-neuf-cent-2010-1-p-173.htm

  2. many thanks for this – looks most interesting – have got myself a copy and am looking forward to reading it!

  3. Hello Matthias!

    This was extremely interesting: the relationship of fascism and consumerism is an appealing subject for many reasons, and Sznaider’s point on consumerism’s inherent resistance to essentialism is particularly compelling. I lack a formal understanding of consumption and consumerism, but I thought I’d share with you a few of my reflections. I rarely have the occasion to share my thoughts on those issues, so forgive me if I go into a bit of details!

    I completely see where your opposition of fascism and consumerism come : It is clear that a large number of ideologists of the fascist movements explicitly rejected (american) consumerism and (bolchevik) marxism as the two faces of an endemic and decadent materialism. Carl Schmitt’s indictment of “political romanticism” is characteristic of this current, and the parallels you draw with Novalis and Berlin are most enlightening as to his stance. However fascism as a historical phenomena is a composite reality, continuously compromising its own ideology to achieve particular goals, and very often changing both the ideology and the goals throughout its movement and regime phases.

    To borrow from art history, I suspect there are two “phases” in fascist attitude to the imagination (both ideal types)– one which is “avant-garde” and is important in the movement phase, and one which is “recalled to order” and which is more important in the regime phase.

    To the “avant-garde” there is a defense of imagination which is grounded in pseudo-nietzschean voluntarism, leading for example Mussolini to acknowledge pragmatism as a major influence on his thought, or Julius Evola in his review of the Italian translation of the Protocols, who distinguishes between “authenticity” and “veracity” (the later he finds to legitimize the pamphlet) or Ernst Krieck to write in 1938 that “the existence of race, and perhaps of existence in general, does not require artificial scientific tools … because man wants race to become a fact.”; To come back to Mussolini, it is also interesting to note he long refused to give a definition of fascism, claiming it was a movement and as such was meant to perpetually change. This fits pretty well with the words Schmitt puts in the mouth of his imagined romantic: “Every definition is a lifeless, mechanical thing. It defines indefinite life. ”
    Such a position is grounded in fin-de-siecle fictionalism, with echoes of Vaihinger and relativism.

    The “Recall to order” phase is that concerned with sachlichkeit, with effective action and technocratic decision-making, celebrating, as does Schmitt, action for its concrete curtailing of the abyss of the possibles. Activism take I suspect a different meaning here: action no longer opens unforeseen vistas, as it did with the “avant-garde” phase, but on the contrary exclude the imaginary.
    I suspect that this second “recall to order” phase was a bit of a technocratic phenomenon, limited to the intellectuals and decision makers of the regime, and the voluntarist “avant-garde” phase remained an important influence on the level of popular culture, and is a lot more open to both romanticism and consumption:
    I think that although fascism must oppose consumer-capitalism inasmuch as such a model demands, in Sznaider’s words, for individuals “to choose elements from various cultural traditions” and thus questions the fixed identities in which the regime is grounded, it is not necessarily hostile to consumption as such: I am keen to follow your lead in seeing consumption as the locus of an imagination and individual expression inherited from romanticism, but I wonder if fascism is as hostile to the imagination as such;

    In Berlin’s interpretation, where the plurality of the romantic “grand designs” come to prove that they must remain in the imaginary or annihilate each others, I would be inclined to see fascist totalitarianism not as rejecting the imaginary, but as claiming it as its monopoly:
    There are many examples of fascism’s use of imaginary, in particular in the field of popular culture: examples can be found in Mabel Berezin’s “Making the Fascist Self” for Italy, or in George Mosse’s “Nazi Culture” for examples. But although totalitarianism (understood here as the “colonizing” of the private sphere by the regime) probably never achieved the goals it claimed, imaginary literature like sci-fi or “adventure” novels were among the first to be mobilized by the movements.
    Similarly consumption seemed not to have been discouraged, but instead has been “transfigured”, mobilized, although not in its entirety due to the regime’s reliance on the support of capitalists: examples of this can be found in Karen Pinkus’ “Bodily Regimes”, Eugenia Paulicelli’s “Fashion under Fascism” or in the beautiful book by Lupano ad Vaccari “Fashion at the Time of Fascism”; For Germany there is Guenther’s “Nazi Chic” which I have not read. The cult of mussolini is telling in that regard, with all sorts of objects and appliances illustrated by the figure of the Duce popping up in Italy already before the time of the “mass consensus”.

    In addition if we think of “leisure” as consumption, the “fabrication of the consensus” at least in Italy (in Victoria de Grazia’s words) was in part produced by one Mussolini’s succesful schemes aimed at national integration, the organization of collective leisure activities for the masses. This also leads us to the relationship of advertising and propaganda, with Goebbels acknowledging the influence of advertising wizard Edward Bernay as a major influence on his propaganda machine. This makes me wonder how much difference can be found between propaganda and consumerism, as far as both aim at turning all public action into a symbol, either of individuality in the case of consumerism, or of allegiance and participation in the nation, in the case of propaganda. Mabel Berezin which I mentioned above, and Simonetta Falasca-Zamponi in “Fascist Spectacle” examine the role of mass rituals in Italian fascism as the principal carriers of the fascist ideology: in other words, the alleged vacuity of fascist ideology (and its inconsistency) is to the fact that it were not the texts and manifestos which carried the ideology, as much as it were the political liturgies. The frontier between the Nurenberg rallies and the mass theatre plotted by Mussolini (cf. Jeffrey Schnapp’s 18BL) is quite blurred, and if I am not sure I find the fascist texts “vacuous” in the first place, I would agree that mass rituals were spectacles, and thus consider their attendance as forms of consumption as well.

    There would be a lot more to discuss, such as the relationship between formlessness / imagination and the colonial discourse which Arendt ackowledges as a major influence on fascist ideology, ad which I think is a major conduct of romantic ideals into fascism. But that would take me too far, so for today I will stop here! I hope I have not bored you to death – anyway thanks again for this inspiring post;

  4. Thanks, Bertrand – this is both very interesting and most helpful.
    My interest is partly guided by a “where from here?” motive. Probably a bit over-optimistically placing my hopes for a libertarian-hedonistic socialism on the romantic nature of consumerism the counter-image is Faustian/heroic industrial production so glorified in Fascism (Jünger … but also the Italian Futurists) and Stalinism. But that’s too easy of course – thence I’m now slowly tackling the issue of what, if anything, are the links between modern consumerism and modern totalitarian movements.
    On reflection there are two questions here – one: how did/do fascist movements utilise consumerist techniques, how do they activate the imagination for their ends? and two: in what ways may consumerism itself be conducive to fascism? I think I can agree with you in that the answer to question one is: “in many ways”. So Benjamin’s notion of fascism as “aesthetisation of politics” seems adequate. As you say – the utilisation of the imagination, the creation of artificial myths, is an important element of fascist aesthetics but, interestingly, it is a double-edged sword. They have to create a fantasy of a new world (and root it in an imagined past) and in this there are indeed many parallels to what advertisers do (and even more parallels to corporate ideology… vision/myth) – but in successfully doing so they inadvertently acknowledge that if you can invent one new order, you can easily do it again. The avant-garde / recall-to-order sequence you suggest seems very fitting here. And that of course is a dialectic – so the avant-garde aspect cannot be got rid of unless the character of the system is to change from a totalitarian movement state to an ossified bureaucratic dictatorship. (With all its problems – the one thing that I find ultimately plausible in Hannah Arendt’s totalitarianism theory is the notion of the centrality of movement, i.e. that it’s some sort of eternal ping pong between Neumann’s Behemoth and Hobbes’ Leviathan). I.e. the dilemma for the fascist movement is (again: as you point out) how to keep being avant-garde while retaining the monopoly on vision/myth making. For me the interesting question is what prevents a fascist turn in consumer capitalism where, for each individual advertiser and each individual corporation, there is no intrinsic commitment to democracy while there must be a huge desire for such a monopoly. I’d venture that in the world of corporations there is something of a micro-totalitarianism going on, which is only contained by the checks and balances imposed by democratic institutions. But the sphere of consumption seems more resilient.
    And that despite the troubling fact that for consumers fascist imagery seems to be not at all unattractive when fictionalised (even where they are clearly the villains, the fascists tend to have at least as much sex appeal as the heroes, so identification figures from Luke Skywalker to Harry Potter constantly have to deal with their own dark/fascist part) or fashionised (the proliferation of hitleryouth haircuts for example…). And while I think that the structural romanticism of money in fact does provide for an antiheroic immunity, I do also suspect that there are circumstances under which something like projected by Ballard may actually happen.

    tbc… (I’m going to read some Michaud now)

  5. Hello Matthias,
    This is very stimulating for me and I look forward to the part 2 – this is a broad subject and one I don’t think has been treated yet. Your approach being rather “cultural” it resonates with my concerns and prompts many thoughts, sometimes disordonate. Again I could go on and on on the subject, but I have tried to restrain myself! As I tire not to mention my understanding of consumption is limited, although I would certainly side with you, in that I see it as a potential guarantor of diversity, as long as its tendency towards producing (conspicuous) hierarchies can be tamed by social policy and education. I have studied fashion so my image of consumption might be shaped by my experience of this specific market, and my engagement with consumption in totalitarian regimes, or aspiring movements, is largely limited to this field.
    I think I understand very well what you mean with your opposition between romantic/imaginative consumerism and fascist/totalitarian productionism: “faustian/heroic” as you call it. I think as you note, this later production-oriented capitalism was epitomized in Juenger’s Der Arbeiter, or in many soviet fictions, Stalinist or earlier, where production become the privileged interface between progress and the political. On the ideological level if not in actual economic realities, planism and centralization appear to me as an inevitable component aimed at withdrawing production from the dominion of the market, by rationalizing it according to the priorities of an omnipotent state, rather than the whims of the consumer.
    I will just point out en passant, however, that the case of Italian futurism is maybe more nuanced than that of Juenger, in that (as some German expressionists) from the start it embraced popular culture, which was otherwise widely rejected by the avant-gardes. A case in point is Enrico Prampolini, but earlier even, the futurist “Serata” was also directly lifted from cabaret (on the subject of commodification, the issue is tackled in Walter Adamson’s awesome “Embattled Avant-Gardes”)
    Juenger’s fantasies of mass-mobilization were of course echoed in Nazism’s rhetoric, from the Gleichhaltung to the Total War, but I think (as you noted) this reflects maybe more the totalitarian character this regime shared especially with Soviet Russia, than the aspirations of fascism proper: Although Italian Fascism did produce the notion of totalitarianism and developed a corporatist economic model, it failed or avoided its complete implementation until the Ethiopian invasion and the subsequent implementation of autarky. It is also worth noting that corporatism as a tool for the national integration of the economy was not (re)born with fascism, but was promoted since the second half of the XIXth century by segments of the Catholics, right and left.
    I would need to look closer at fascist economies to make a more informed guess, but I suspect that the degree of centralized planning to which particular market segments were submitted, was inversely proportional to the proximity of those goods to the consumer market: thus whereas heavy industries, raw materials, chemicals or construction were tightly regimented, the further down we move towards the final consumer-good and its distribution, the less the state would be involved.
    I also understand that you are concerned with contemporary applications of your model of relation between fascism and consumer culture, which is of course an urgent question in the face of the constant changes in tactics of the far right (such as the “mainstreaming of the extreme-right” and the concurrent radicalization of traditional right-wing parties) and the spread of fascist imagery and references in popular culture (such as your puzzling nipsters, or the omnipresence of uniforms in japanese pop music-videos); I have not read the Ballard novel you refer to, but I will share a few reflections on the question:
    There is much debate as to the applicability of the fascist paradigm to the contemporary far right, especially since the daunting task of fixing what radical, extreme, groupuscular, far, populist and fascist means has been tackled (most successfully in my opinion by Cas Mudde);
    I am personally inclined to avoid applying the label beyond self-professed fascist groups, either historical or contemporary: this does exclude historical actors who shared or borrowed much from fascism but I am yet to find a convincing definition that could let me do so confidently.
    One of the reasons why, in particular, I am reluctant to apply it to the contemporary groups like the EDL you mention, is that the economic centralism of historical fascism (that “faustian productivism” you mention) seem particularly absent – most of the time, their economic policies are a mixture of middle-class populism (“Poujadisme” as we would call it in France) and rejection of institutions perceived as dominated by abstract ideals (education, social services, etc. most recently, human rights!) rather than common-sense (their version of the general will).
    Common-sense does not have the hybris that can motivate planned economies, and I suspect that such hybris can only be found in countries during their nationalization and industrialization: James Gregor controversially defined fascism as a form of “developmental dictatorship” and whether or not we are to agree with him, I think that to a lot of middle-class Italians and Germans, this is how it appeared.
    You ask the question “what prevents a fascist turn in consumer capitalism”? Again I lack the terminology and the concepts to give an articulated (or informed) opinion:
    In very broad strokes, I would say I suspect that Western consumption until the late fifties indicated belonging, and was a way toward group (& national) integration. The much mocked consumerism of the american fifties (suburban pavilion, big car, fancy fridge etc.) seems less a consumerism of expression than a consumerism of participation. Thus the relatively centralized economy of the fascist regimes, despite attempting to provide a single identity to their consumers (or at least a single ladder of identities) was not in intrinsic conflict with capitalist consumer culture until the fifties. Demands for diversity were only made at the upper, cosmopolitan echelons of the society, and this was dismissed as anti-national, foreign or “entartete”.
    After the fifties, the market seems to change either under the influence of the emerging youth market (which paradoxically emerged from the same root as fascism, but that is another question) or the spread of mass media: we now have “consumer-capitalism” where the good is no longer the sign of belonging to a singular national community, but of expressing one’s identity within and without a multiplicity of consumer groups, which seem to grow ever smaller as we move up the scale of cultural capital, or further down the time-line.
    This, you might say, is a rather rosy picture of late-capitalism and consumption: you would be right, we are still far from the advent of “no-logo” and consumption retain, today as ever, a concern with indicating wealth or status, and branded goods (say Apple) often still promise both an idealized and totalizing lifestyle, and the exclusion of other groups. But to come back to fashion, which seems a limit-case and which I know a little, there is an increasing awareness on the part of the brands, that no matter how immersive and exclusive the life-style they propose, the “consumer-king” will retain the upper hand. In other words, it is not the consumer who must kow-tow in front of the brand and its “cathedrals of consumption”, but it is the brand which is meant to serve the consumer. Thus fashion marketing comes up with intrinsicly plural fields such as “brand synergy” which is meant to engineer and analyse the “compatibility” or labels, admitting in the process that goods are “re-mixed” by the consumer.
    To conclude on the issue of what keeps consumerism from fascism, I would say that much like a developmental dictatorship demands a belief in progress, which the modern West is sorely lacking, “planned consumerism” or “fascist consumerism” (whether or not it has ever been effectively implemented) would demand a single, integrated scale of identities, such as that which was shattered by the rise of consumer capitalism. I suppose if a single scale could achieve hegemony again, there would be a chance to slide into fascist consumerism: I would be more inclined to imagine it sneaking in through the paternalist policies on the production side (corporate healthcare, company culture or team-building management!) than from the increasingly fragmented, “post-subculture” consumer side.

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