When history repeats itself with a vengeance, it generally signals a crisis of memory, historical consciousness and civic literacy. The ghosts of the past disappear in a comforting somnolence and a deadening market-driven culture of consumption, privatization and individualization. As a mode of moral witnessing, memory withers, lost in forms of historical and social amnesia that usher in the dark clouds of authoritarianism, albeit in updated forms.
Albert Camus understood this as well as anyone, and viewed fascism as a deadly virus that could reappear in new forms. For Camus, the disease of fascism could only be fought with the antibody of consciousness -- embracing the past as a way of protecting the present and the future against the damage now forgotten. The words that appear in the concluding paragraph of The Plague are as relevant today as they were when they were written. Camus writes:
[As] he listened to the cries of joy rising from the town, Rieux remembered that such joy is always imperiled. He knew what those jubilant crowds did not know but could have learned from books: that the plague bacillus never dies or disappears for good; that it can lie dormant for years and years in furniture and linen chests; that it bides its time in bedrooms, cellars, trunks, and bookshelves; and that perhaps the day would come when, for the bane and the enlightening of men, it would rouse up its rats again and send them forth to die in a happy city.
With Donald Trump's election as president of the United States, the scourge of authoritarianism has returned not only in the toxic language of hate, humiliation and bigotry, but also in the emergence of a culture of war and violence that looms over society like a plague.
War has been redefined in the age of global capitalism: it has expanded its boundaries and now shapes all aspects of society. As Ulrich Beck observes, "the distinctions between war and peace, military and police, war and crime, internal and external security" have collapsed. As violence and politics merge to produce an accelerating and lethal mix of bloodshed, pain, suffering, grief and death, American culture has been transformed into a culture of war.
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