Wednesday, July 01, 2009

is the u.s. drifting toward war socialism?

Energy Bulletin | The report card for the United States as a war socialist society is decidedly mixed. We seem to have the war part down. But the socialist part is lacking. The current administration wants to redistribute benefits in American society, most notably through new health care spending meant to bring all people under some kind of coverage. It has enacted funding for a plethora of public works projects, but many of them are simply more road building. The administration seeks to expand renewable energy, but has a keen interest in the coal industry through such doubtful technologies as carbon sequestration.

But one might ask why the socialism part of Hanson's war socialism society is so important? The answer is social cohesion. In the coming crisis if people don't feel they have a stake in the system, then they will be much less likely to work or fight or submit to the rules for the common good. Hanson believes that without substantial internal cooperation, no society will weather the coming storm. Instead, we may simply devolve into a lawless anarchy.

War socialist ideas are also in the news in Great Britain where the British National Party won seats in the European Parliament. This case is interesting because the BNP is explicit about the danger of peak oil and the world of shrinking resources we can expect. Some of its prescriptions sound harsh, and others seem enlightened. The party has been trying to repackage itself with difficulty because of its racist, right-wing heritage. The basic BNP response is increased self-sufficiency and isolation: 1) a military which defends Great Britain and doesn't seek foreign adventures, 2) a halt to immigration, 3) deportation of illegals and noncitizen criminals, 4) a devolution of power to local governments, 5) a reversal of the privatization of British rails and new investment to expand public transportation, 6) a selective withdrawal from the global economy and increased local manufacturing, 7) food self-sufficiency based on organic methods, and 8) cooperative ownership of power production (with wind given as a primary example).

The BNP website no longer makes it sound like a party that fits neatly within the reactionary right (though in practice its emphasis on a "white" Britain remains central). Still, some of its ideas are actually quite close to those described by Hanson as war socialism. What's not in view is an aggressive foreign and military policy designed to extract resources from competing nations, something that Britain's major parties clearly embrace. The BNP, which is a minor party, is relevant to British politics because major parties often neutralize minor ones by co-opting their ideas. And, Britain is actually further along the war socialism path than the United States.

We and Hanson can still hope for unprecedented cooperation to manage the coming decline. But he may be right that if that cooperation doesn't emerge, we may be faced with a decision about making preparations for an all-out and probably violent scramble for the world's remaining resources--a contest in which a disciplined, cohesive and militarized society has the best chance of survival. Is he missing a viable third or fourth way? Even more important, is there time to implement a different path as nations successively awaken to the realities of peak oil and resource stringency and increasingly focus on self-preservation rather than cooperation?