Political labels and the question of scale

17.54, Friday 5 Nov 2021


This is a tough but intriguing one: The Sound of Music is ostensibly a movie about homely Austrians resisting the invading fascists.

But Slavoj Zizek explains that it is also a pro-fascist movie.

Zizek’s argument: the heroes of the movie are these anti-intellectual Austrians who are living a traditional life, i.e. rejecting change. Therefore they have a fascistic quality. Whereas the type Nazis shown not soldiers but urbane cosmopolitans, precisely the elite class that (populist) fascists want to eliminate.

So while the surface narrative is about beating the Nazis, the underlying message has us rooting for a fascistic mindset.

It’s… a stretch. If true then maybe that’s why the movie continues to feel so fresh: because it runs counter to our expectations every time. (But I enjoy being challenged to think about things like this, especially a film that I’ve seen so many times.)

The meta here, I suppose, is that we all have a fascistic tendency and that’s why the traditional Austrian life appeals: the desire to resist change, and to exert control on others and the world. Sometimes that’s unhealthy (I mean, clearly when it comes to Nazis, but also authoritarianism in general, and also when it is generally unwarranted and connected with fury when the world - understandably - doesn’t immediately accord to one’s whim). But sometimes it is fine: gardening, parenting, management, design, all forms of control that are generally a-o.k… though I imagine we can all recall examples where even these have become over-controlling. And so the line must be policed.

SECONDLY, in my series of two disjointed thoughts about politics:

I’m just back from Center Parcs which - for US readers - is a certain kind of British/European/middle class phenomenon.

Each Center Parcs location is a forest village with hundreds of almost identical, comfortably furnished self-catered lodges (ours had a hot tub). Cars are banned except on moving days; you cycle everywhere. There are tons of activities such as swimming, zip lines, sports, pottery, woodland walks, falconry, etc.

So let’s be clear: it’s super fun and I’ve had a wonderful week of full-on family time, swimming, biking, star gazing, and adventuring.

It is utopia made from market communism. It is undeniably gorgeous to be cycling from activity to activity in the woods. You sign up for activities by paying a moderate fee but we all get to choose from the same relatively small set of choices. It’s a captured market: a fine resource allocation mechanism, but not allowed to run rampant. Variation is within limits. We live equally.


There are the workers, of course. The cleaners, the foresters, the shop cashiers, and so on. So another way of looking at this communist idyll is to call it totalitarian class capitalism. The consumer and worker classes may never cross; the consumer class lives a life of luxury but at the expense of freedom.

All of which has left me a little at sea about political descriptions.

Functionally it seems like market communism and totalitarian class capitalism are equivalent, so what’s the point of holding a political position? Maybe we need other ways to describe the differences between things?

OR maybe these two labels are simultaneously true, only at different scales or social “distances”. It’s communist for me and people like me, looking from the inside. It’s totalitarian looking from the outside. Taking one step further away, one bubble further out, it’s class capitalism.

And I wonder how much political differences and positions would make more sense if we clarified the scale and the stance.

You might be socialist for “people like us” (whatever that means: class, ethnicity, nation) and neoliberal outside that. But that means something entirely different depending on your position and where you draw the line for “like me”. Maybe the lesson from The Sound of Music is that fascistic tendencies are actually pretty normal at certain scales and from certain perspectives.

This goes back to oikos vs polis (May 2021) which is basically blood vs state, two ends of the scale: which do you privilege.


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