Global Capitalism is Providing an Energetic Impulse to Populism

Source: ABC

 

After the victory of Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the referendum, the Western media were full of critical analyses: The century of the Kemalist endeavor to secularize Turkey is over, the Turkish voters were offered not so much a democratic choice as a referendum to limit democracy. However, many a reaction contained a subtle ambiguity recalling the ambivalence of Donald Trump’s politics towards Israel: While he stated that the US should recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, some of his supporters are openly anti-Semitic. But is this really an inconsistent stance? A caricature once published in a Viennese newspaper depicted two stocky, Nazi-looking Austrians sitting at a table, with one of them holding a newspaper and commenting indignantly: “Here you can see again how a totally justified anti-Semitism is being misused for a cheap critique of Israel!”

This amusing reversal of customary argumentation isn’t so exotic today. It resembles the thinking of Christian fundamentalist supporters of Israeli policies who reject critiques of those policies as leftist. It recalls Anders Breivik, the Norwegian anti-immigrant mass murderer: he was both anti-Semitic and pro-Israel, since he saw in the state of Israel the first line of defense against Muslim expansionism. Mr. Breivik thus embodies the ultimate paradox of the Zionist anti-Semite; traces of this weird stance lead back to Reinhardt Heydrich, the mastermind of the Holocaust, who praised the Zionists in 1935 for their “strictly racial concept.”

Today there is a new version of this Zionist anti-Semitism: Islamophobic respect for Islam. The same politicians who warn of the danger of Islamization of the Christian West, from Trump to Putin, respectfully congratulated Erdogan for his victory, because apparently an authoritarian regime is okay for Turkey but not for us. A new version of the caricature could have the newspaper readers say: “Here you can see again how a totally justified Islamophobia is being misused for a cheap critique of Turkey!”

This weird logic is a response, but of course a false response, to the great malady of contemporary society, Huntington’s disease. St. Vitus’ dance, as it used to be called, can initially appear to be a general restlessness, with minor unintentional movements and a lack of coordination. Does the rise of brutal populism not look quite similar? It begins with apparently random violent excesses against immigrants, uncoordinated outbursts that express a general unease and restlessness apropos “foreign intruders,” but then it gradually grows, even explodes into a well-coordinated and ideologically grounded movement – what the other Huntington (Samuel) called “the clash of civilizations.” A tell-tale coincidence: what is usually referred to under this term is basically the St. Vitus’ dance of today’s global capitalism.

According to Huntington, after the end of the Cold War, the “iron curtain of ideology” was replaced by the “velvet curtain of culture.” Huntington’s dark vision of clashing civilizations may appear to be the very opposite of Francis Fukuyama’s bright prospect of the end of history in the guise of a world-wide liberal democracy. What could differ more from Fukuyama’s notion that the final formula for the best possible social order is to be found in capitalist liberal democracy than a clash of civilizations that is becoming the main political struggle of the 21st century?

Today’s experience makes it clear: The clash of civilizations is in fact politics at “the end of history.” The ethnic-religious conflicts are the form of struggle that fits global capitalism: In the age of “post-politics” that is replacing politics with social administration, the only remaining legitimate sources of conflict are cultural (ethnic, religious) tensions. The rise of “irrational” violence thus corresponds to the depoliticization of our societies, i.e. to the disappearance of the genuine political dimension, its replacement by the administration of social affairs. If we accept this thesis of the clash of civilizations, the only alternative to it remains the peaceful coexistence of civilizations (or of “ways of life,” a more popular term today): Forced marriages and homophobia are acceptable as long as they are limited to another country that is otherwise fully integrated into the world market.

Obscene: All ways of life are treated as equal. What matters is the economic integration

The new world order would thus no longer  be the Fukuyamaist  global liberal democracy but one of the peaceful coexistence of different political-theological ways of life – a coexistence against the background of the smooth functioning of global capitalism. The obscenity of this process is that it can present itself as progress in the anti-colonial struggle: The liberal West is no longer being allowed to imposed standards on others, all ways of life are treated as equal. No wonder that Robert Mugabe displayed sympathy for Trump’s slogan “America First,” saying “’America First’ for you, ‘Zimbabwe First’ for me, ‘India First’ or ‘North Korea First’ for others.” This is how the British Empire, the first global capitalist empire, functioned: Each ethnic-religious community was allowed to pursue its own way of life; Hindus in India were free to burn widows, etc. Local “customs” were perhaps criticized but were consistently tolerated since what mattered was their economic integration.

In this new world order, universality will be more and more reduced to tolerance – tolerance of different ways of life. Following the formula of Zionist anti-Semitism, there will be no contradiction in imposing in our own countries the strictest politically correct feminism and simultaneously rejecting a critique of the dark side of Islam as neocolonialist arrogance. There will be less and less room for figures like Julian Assange who, in spite of his problematic attitude, remains today’s most powerful symbol of what Kant called “the public use of reason,” a space for public knowledge and debate outside state control. The renewed American efforts to have Julian Assange arrested show what lies ahead: Wikileaks will be proclaimed a terrorist organization, and instead of genuine advocates of public space like Assange, figures that exemplify the privatization of our common space will set the tone. Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckenberg – the billionaires with a “social conscience.” They stand for global capital at its most seductive and “progressive” – in short, at its most dangerous. Mr. Musk likes to warn about the threats the new technologies pose to human dignity and freedom – which doesn’t prevent him from investing in a company called Neuralink that seeks to develop a brain-computer interface so that humans can keep pace with advancements in artificial intelligence.

Source: Zeit

By: Slavoj Žižek

25 May 2017

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