Monday, June 22, 2015

If I Were Ever King...

... and not a mere Democratic Subject or other such member of an autonomous collective
The protests on Wall Street and at St Paul’s Cathedral are similar, Anne Applebaum wrote in the Washington Post, ‘in their lack of focus, in their inchoate nature, and above all in their refusal to engage with existing democratic institutions’. ‘Unlike the Egyptians in Tahrir Square,’ she went on, ‘to whom the London and New York protesters openly (and ridiculously) compare themselves, we have democratic institutions.’

Once you have reduced the Tahrir Square protests to a call for Western-style democracy, as Applebaum does, of course it becomes ridiculous to compare the Wall Street protests with the events in Egypt: how can protesters in the West demand what they already have? What she blocks from view is the possibility of a general discontent with the global capitalist system which takes on different forms here or there.

‘Yet in one sense,’ she conceded, ‘the international Occupy movement’s failure to produce sound legislative proposals is understandable: both the sources of the global economic crisis and the solutions to it lie, by definition, outside the competence of local and national politicians.’ She is forced to the conclusion that ‘globalisation has clearly begun to undermine the legitimacy of Western democracies.’ This is precisely what the protesters are drawing attention to: that global capitalism undermines democracy. The logical further conclusion is that we should start thinking about how to expand democracy beyond its current form, based on multi-party nation-states, which has proved incapable of managing the destructive consequences of economic life. Instead of making this step, however, Applebaum shifts the blame onto the protesters themselves for raising these issues:
‘Global’ activists, if they are not careful, will accelerate that decline. Protesters in London shout: ‘We need to have a process!’ Well, they already have a process: it’s called the British political system. And if they don’t figure out how to use it, they’ll simply weaken it further.
So, Applebaum’s argument appears to be that since the global economy is outside the scope of democratic politics, any attempt to expand democracy to manage it will accelerate the decline of democracy. What, then, are we supposed to do? Continue engaging, it seems, in a political system which, according to her own account, cannot do the job.

There is no shortage of anti-capitalist critique at the moment: we are awash with stories about the companies ruthlessly polluting our environment, the bankers raking in fat bonuses while their banks are saved by public money, the sweatshops where children work overtime making cheap clothes for high-street outlets. There is a catch, however. The assumption is that the fight against these excesses should take place in the familiar liberal-democratic frame. The (explicit or implied) goal is to democratise capitalism, to extend democratic control over the global economy, through the pressure of media exposure, parliamentary inquiries, harsher laws, police investigations etc. What goes unquestioned is the institutional framework of the bourgeois democratic state. This remains sacrosanct even in the most radical forms of ‘ethical anti-capitalism’ – the Porto Allegre forum, the Seattle movement and so on.

Here, Marx’s key insight remains as pertinent today as it ever was: the question of freedom should not be located primarily in the political sphere – i.e. in such things as free elections, an independent judiciary, a free press, respect for human rights. Real freedom resides in the ‘apolitical’ network of social relations, from the market to the family, where the change needed in order to make improvements is not political reform, but a change in the social relations of production. We do not vote concerning who owns what, or about the relations between workers in a factory. Such things are left to processes outside the sphere of the political, and it is an illusion that one can change them by ‘extending’ democracy: say, by setting up ‘democratic’ banks under the people’s control. Radical changes in this domain should be made outside the sphere of such democratic devices as legal rights etc. They have a positive role to play, of course, but it must be borne in mind that democratic mechanisms are part of a bourgeois-state apparatus that is designed to ensure the undisturbed functioning of capitalist reproduction. Badiou was right to say that the name of the ultimate enemy today is not capitalism, empire, exploitation or anything of the kind, but democracy: it is the ‘democratic illusion’, the acceptance of democratic mechanisms as the only legitimate means of change, which prevents a genuine transformation in capitalist relations.

The Wall Street protests are just a beginning, but one has to begin this way, with a formal gesture of rejection which is more important than its positive content, for only such a gesture can open up the space for new content. So we should not be distracted by the question: ‘But what do you want?’ This is the question addressed by male authority to the hysterical woman: ‘All your whining and complaining – do you have any idea what you really want?’ In psychoanalytic terms, the protests are a hysterical outburst that provokes the master, undermining his authority, and the master’s question – ‘But what do you want?’ – disguises its subtext: ‘Answer me in my own terms or shut up!’ So far, the protesters have done well to avoid exposing themselves to the criticism that Lacan levelled at the students of 1968: ‘As revolutionaries, you are hysterics who demand a new master. You will get one.’
- Slavoj Žižek, "Democracy is the enemy" (28 October 2011)

22 comments:

Gert said...

... you'd believe your power was invested in you directly by God. And you'd have to carefully nurture/control a contingent of warrior knights to 'manage' the general populace (serfs) and the means of production.

Applebaum is a neoliberal or at least a neoliberal useful idiot. An apparatchick. It pays quite well, I think...

Thersites said...

...unless I could find a new "less-coercive" system of social relations in which individual "subjects" did not siphon on all 'surplus' generated through the division of labour for themselves. One in which the labour of a CEO was not over-valued to produce a surplus-wage over a janitor. A new "Mayflower Compact", so to speak.

Thersites said...

...but then, just so we're clear, labour would not cooperate UNLESS it were so. The freedom to "sell" one's labour would also require a "universal-duty" to withhold it, unless certain "minimums" were met. And therein come the "knights" again (but hopefully, self-appointed "Magnesian" ones not directly associated with the Nocturnal Council" [Plato, "Laws"] or a Crypteia; aka -citizens)

Thersites said...

...so be prepared to take an Ephebic Oath. ;)

FreeThinke said...

_____ Sail On, O Ship of State ______

What the truth might be no one can find.
Hopeless is the quest on either side
Invested as they are in staying blind
To anything that points to Power denied.
Entrenched in battle lines made to endure,
Weapons drawn and ready to attack.
A motivating force that’s quite impure
Twists logic into seeing white as black.
Examining our leaders’ feet of clay
Removes us from confronting our own flaws,
While they decisive action can delay
On how to rid the Nation’s Face of yaws.
Electing pugilists who throw the fight
Scorches angels’ wings, yet sheds no light.


~ FreeThinke - The Sandpiper, Summer 1997

FreeThinke said...

To be alive—is Power—
Existence—in itself—
Without a further function—
Omnipotence—Enough—

To be alive—and Will!
'Tis able as a God—
The Maker—of Ourselves—be what—
Such being Finitude!


~ Emily Dickinsion (1830-1886)

FreeThinke said...

____________ CONTENTMENT ____________

No sound beyond the dropping of the leaves
Or shushing in the treetops of the stirring
In the air and periodic whirring
Soft of wings and bundling of sheaves ––

Every now and then a bird may call
Looking for or longing for his mate;
Escaping still the hunter’s dinner plate.
Scythes swish steadily as grain grown tall

Submits to delicate compelling force.
Workers silently bent to their task
Over whom hot sunshine spills its rays

Reap swiftly knowing pain could come, of course.
Later, in the afterglow they’ll bask
Dreaming –– foolishly –– of better days.


~ FreeThinke

Gert said...

Ephebic Oath... I learn something new every day here!

Gert said...

O/T(ish): have you read this book?

Thersites said...

I haven't, but will admit to 'pimping' it a bit on AoW's blog. I've read a lot of Murray's works, but he lost me at "Human Accomplishment," where he discounted the scholarship of the past 100 years as a kind of "rabbit hole". And so whilst I'm "sympathetic" with his cause (smaller government), I'm opposed to his "status-quo" economic goal. I would rather seek to de-corporatize and de-legitimize the current "Blue" neoliberal business model, and impose a more classical "Enlightenment" laissez-faire liberal one, devoid of the privileges arising from "corporate personhood" and/or "limited liability". I suppose I'm more "Swiftian" in the regard (against Laputa).

Thersites said...

On Laputa... ;)

Thersites said...

On how I know that my "reforms" of neo-liberalism are "possible"... and where I share "common cause" with the aims, but not methods, of Osama bin Laden.

Thersites said...

Lessons on the demands of the perpetually offended...

Gert said...

Lesson: hard to imagine these lyrics to the notes of 'O Tannenbaum'! ;-)

-FJ said...

Don't worry. The words will soon be forever erased and forgotten by all but "outlaws" such as myself.

Gert said...

Anyway, I think I'll get myself a joblot of these, now they're likely to gain value. ;-)

-FJ said...

Every rebel's gonna want one. Nothing attracts and excites like a prohibition.

Gert said...

For you I can do 'mates rates', of course... ;->

-FJ said...

We're more tee shirt people in MD. ;)

Gert said...

Sure, but mine you can wear on your hat, like a founding father! Talk about a USP...

-FJ said...

What, and me with all those feathers out there? ;)

-FJ said...

Stop harrassing me! ;p