We're All Participatory Fascists Now?

Newsweek's “We're All Socialists Now” piece seems designed to provoke, and it's working. The most interesting response so far comes from Robert Higgs:

I don’t recommend the Newsweek article. Although the writers, Jon Meacham and Evan Thomas, have absorbed a number of true facts, their level of economic understanding is abysmal, and hence their reasoning is close to worthless.
Truth is, socialism is not the wave of the future. Indeed, it is already almost as dead as the dodo.
No, the world is converging ever more visibly, not toward socialism, but toward what I (following Charlotte Twight’s usage) have for many years been calling participatory fascism. The hallmarks of this system are, on the political side, the trappings of democracy (parties, elections, procedural niceties, etc.), and, on the economic side, the form of private property rights (though not much of the substance that characterizes the real thing).
The beauty of this system is that the political system can easily be corrupted so that the power elite retains a firm hold on the state, despite the appearance that they rule only with the consent of the governed. The major political parties appear to compete, but for the most part they coalesce and conspire; on the basics, they are in complete agreement. The apparent “consent” they enjoy they actually manufacture by their control of the mass media, the schools and universities, and other key institutions, and no political opinion outside the 40-yard lines ever receives a hearing in serious political circles.

Aha! But the editors of Newsweek can't call it “participatory fascism,” which is outside the 40-yard line, so “socialism” it is.
I strongly feel the pull of Higgs' Chomskyite analysis, and I don't think many enthusiasts of actually-existing democracy, like Josh Cohen, take seriously enough the extent to which Higgs is right. Yet I cannot help but think that the ability of the “power elite” to  “manufacture consent” is eroding. The fragmentation and democratization of media production, and the relative ease with which one can create alternative institutions, pushes against both the ability of the “power elites” to control the message and hand-pick their heirs. And to say that political opinion outside the 40-yard lines can't get a hearing in “serious political circles” — that is, circles containing those with a real shot at political power — is just to restate the median voter theory in conspriatorial language. Hence the urgency of engaging public opinion and moving the the 40 yard lines.

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center