Annals of Parliamentary Cretinism: 4
This has been in the works since the get-go. HRC faces a tight race in what ought to be a walkover because she is a lousy candidate and a terrible campaigner, and because she has not learned the message that the other “Goldwater Girls” learned 50 years ago, that you don’t take your base for granted. She may lose a presidential election to a blowhard clown reality TV show host with no political experience whatsoever who is opposed by the power brokers of his own party.
And of course it will be the fault of Sanders, who, as promised, has supported her loyally since he conceded the nomination, and of his supporters, who think she’s a lying, crooked, neoliberal, neocon political hack who demands their support while giving them nothing. This race shouldn’t been be close. And if it is, and if she loses, is that the fault of the left, who showed themselves willing to be enthusiastic about a self styled “socialist” (really a New Deal Liberal) who was willing to offer an alternative to politics as usual. And to whom she had conceded nothing, reaching out instead to Republicans who think that Trump is too tacky. –radical lawyer and philosopher Justin Schwartz
My friend Jason Schwartz wrote the above a few weeks ago; if anything, even though there have been some “developments” in the meantime (though what has “happened,” exactly), and now the list of those who blame for HRC’s problems has expanded–especially to Putin and “the Russians”–this is still pretty accurate.
With just a few days left until November 8, it’s anyone’s guess what will happen. Most likely Hillary will sail into the White House (probably precipitating the supercluster of all clusters, to borrow a term from astrophysics), but the likelihood of major revelations is high. The Hillary supporters are in a dither about the FBI/James Comey thing, though it didn’t bother them previously when Comey was also influencing things by saying that he would not indict HRC, more or less at the same time as Bill Clinton was meeting on the tarmac with U.S. attorney general Loretta Lynch. Both Lynch and Comey should have themselves been indicted over these things, but now it appears that something has broken down in the relationship with the Clintons. One imagines that Julian Assange has more to reveal as well. Of course the media will go into overdrive to make it look like this is just more of the same inconsequential stuff, and certainly Hillary’s supporters have an excellent job of snowing themselves, at least, into the idea that there is nothing that could be said of Hillary, even if true, pales in comparison with the Trump horrorshow.
I don’t work very well with the deadlines that journalists generally face; once again, some of what follows may have been overtaken by events, but the point is to treat this crazy saison en enter as a learning experience.
Are things really different, “this time”? From Hillary supporters and others, we hear that they are–because of Donald Trump, who is supposedly a bona-fide fascist. As always, and too often, critical thinking about the meaning of the term, “fascism,” is in short supply; beyond certain broad features, what we end up with is “fascism” as the name of “the worst.” Really, then, what we end up with, in terms of the bogus “political process” that is in place in the United States, is that one absolutely must support the only viable alternative to the worst, namely the candidate of the Democratic Party.
I’m a fan of Matt Taibbi’s writing in Rolling Stone, probably most of all because he can make a person laugh out loud at the sheer whackitude of most of what passes for “politics.” When my recent issue (August 11, 2016, with actor/musician Jared Leto on the cover) arrived, containing Taibbi’s account of the Republican Convention, I knew I was in for a fun time. But herein lies a problem, basically the problem of low-hanging fruit, which then leads to some inaccuracies that require further consideration.
The tag-line for the article (which I assume was written by an editor rather than Taibbi himself) is, “Donald Trump’s disastrous convention doomed the GOP and made a joke of American democracy.” Now I am waiting with baited breath to see if Taibbi’s article on the Democratic convention will read anything like, “Hillary Clinton’s rigged convention boosted militarism and American exceptionalism and made a joke of American democracy.” As Rolling Stone endorsed Hillary back in March, I don’t expect this to happen.
What is especially tiring, though it has been tiring for decades now, are these warning cries that something has gone wrong with “our democracy.” Can we please stop being silly here? The only “democracy” that has ever existed in the United States was never “ours.” Whatever the future utility of the term, “dictatorship of the proletariat,” might be, let’s be clear: in the United States, capital decides. To use the Bush-ism, capital is “the decider.” It could even be said that the capitalist class does not decide, exactly, because the individuals making up this class must themselves serve the expansion of capital–meaning not only the expansion of profit, but also, indeed even more, the expansion of the social relationship that is capital. However the details of this are worked out (or affected by international relations or new factors of production or even climate change), the bottom line is that the people do not decide, unless they militantly assert their right (a deeper right than anything in bourgeois democracy or its language of “human rights”) to do so–indeed, unless they assert, with intensity, their right to be.
As I’ve said before, I do not want to dogmatically claim that such an assertion is impossible within the space of electoral politics, but no one has done a good job of showing where there is a real space for such assertion within the existing terms of things, or why people should dedicate their energies to looking for this space. This is just the situation, it’s not a matter of being tired or frustrated (though that comes with the territory); what’s more tiring and frustrating is that what we get instead of some real arguments on the other side are just a bunch of cliches about apathy and how you can’t complain if you don’t vote–says who, exactly? Or we get a new version of the lesser-evil argument, complete with a new Bentham-like calculus, from Noam Chomsky, of all people. What is this world coming to?
A little while ago, while working on this article, I heard someone being interviewed on the radio who gave a wonderful demonstration of what is wrong with lesser-evil logic. This guy said, “Of course I will vote for the lesser evil, because I want less evil.” A little math will go a long way in thinking about this.
Speaking of overused terms, I thought about calling this article, “Teachable moments,” but it occurs to me that this can sound condescending in the same way that Hillary and her supporters generally do. Then again, I thought about calling my last article (“The triumph of imperialist feminism”), “What would you like on your shit sandwich?” My brilliant life-partner, Kathleen League, convinced me to not do this, because she wanted her mother, essentially a very smart but conservative, fundamentalist Christian, to be able to read the article. This has been a problem when it comes to Matt Taibbi’s articles, too, Kathleen wanted to show some of those to her mom, but there was too much gratuitous swearing–which I find mostly hilarious and Kathleen does not. Well, then, the middle way for me, and the fact is that ordinary people don’t even get to choose the condiments in this dog’s dinner.
Liberal condescension seems to be at an all time high right now, and it’s tough to take. Hillary supporters are going on about how “honest” Hillary is, according to some metric that has her even more honest than Bernie Sanders and of course substantially more honest than the Donald. George Costanza’s advice to Jerry on beating the polygraph comes to mind: “It’s not a lie, if you believe it.” I would like to understand the metric by which HRC is honest–and I mean this sincerely. Even more, I would like to understand the metric by which those who support Hillary condescendingly judge those who just don’t seem to be able to get onboard with Hillary’s virtue; from the tone of their comments, it seems they think that we’re just plain stupid or very dense. That must be it. Perhaps we’re not smart enough to understand the double negative. Hillary’s recent response (August 5, 2016) to further questions about the email thing is that she “may have short-circuited it and for that I will try to clarify.” See, to us morons out here, it sounds like she’s not only lying, but lying about lying. Perhaps, though, she’s not lying, but instead simply working in terms of a form of honesty that seems to some of us to be what is generally called “being full of shit.” But, hey, that’s not the middle way to claim such things, so I’ll just go with the explanation that sophisticated liberal reasoning is beyond me.
The other guy on NPR, the one who isn’t David Brooks, said on this point that Trump had told bigger lies in the last few days. Well, we all want lesser lies, don’t we? Welcome to the Democratic Party’s new, New Math–isn’t it interesting that this is about all the Hillary campaign adds up to?
Sarcasm aside, I am committed to the Middle Way (which, in Buddhism, is something different from just compromising between extremes, and most certainly different from halving the differences between two lying liars), and I was brought back to this principle by something a close friend of mine, a fellow philosopher and social theorist, said in response to one of my call-out Facebook posts on HRC. My friend asked why I was writing on “this” at all–I assume by “this” he means the points on which HRC can be criticized. (I’ll come back to the “specific point.”) He goes on to say, “There is plenty of negative stuff piled on Hillary’s or some other head and, for better or worse, and after some days, it [all?] sounds the same.” The rest of what he says is slightly less important to me, and also a little unclear, but in the interest of giving the complete thought, I’ll characterize it as follows: “You cannot trump Trump in this great Aufhebung [a philosophical term from Hegel that, in this case, is perhaps best rendered as “synthesis”–but please, German Idealism scholars, let’s not get hung up on this here], unless you do something constructive; otherwise Trump will carry you with him, not the other way.” Most of this is verbatim, including the last four words; but I’m unsure regarding what is “the other way”–something like my carrying Trump with me? Certainly I don’t expect to carry Trump anywhere. Or is the “other way” Hillary Clinton?
In any case, I actually unite with the first part of this, that there is no further point to piling things on, and it does become a bleat. The issues with Hillary are clear enough, and have been made even clearer during the convention. Hillary’s faults are simply representative of a system that has been beyond repair for a long time, with, sure, a few “personal” twists thrown in. The hardcore Hillary supporters are simply dogmatic liberals with superior attitudes, people who are not only fine with the system the way it is, but who have basically found their way toward accepting what has been considered in the past to be a conservative Republican program when it comes to mass incarceration, a racist, militarized police force, economic globalism, and American imperialism and American exceptionalism. It’s frustrating, but clearly there is no way to change their minds, at least not through argument. The very things we who find HRC unacceptable hate are the very things that those who are giddy about HRC love.
And boy are they pissed about anyone who would rain on their parade.
It’s really quite extraordinary the attacks that the hardcore HRC supporters are now mounting on those who say they are not going to vote for Hillary. One really has to wonder where these people think they get off. It’s even more difficult because I have many friends who are in the category of celebrating Hillary for the very things I despise, even philosophers and other critical thinkers in the humanities, social sciences, and physical sciences who I really feel should know better. They’re mad at me for writing these articles, and they say I’m irresponsible, even.
None of my friends has said this next sort of thing to me directly, but it really boggles my mind the statements that are coming from the HRC camp. Here’s a typical one that comes from some group calling itself “Conservatives Are Destroying Our Future”–which, as best I can tell, is just a Facebook page, but still: “Dear ‘Bernie or Bust’ Morons, If you do not vote for Hillary you are indirectly casting a vote for Trump. That is how the Electoral College works. Sincerely, America.” (This is in all caps in the original.) Wasn’t it nice of them to say “dear” along with “morons”?
So, yes, enough about Hillary, we know what she’s about. A vote for Hillary is your opportunity to affirm U.S. imperialism. Is there something constructive to be achieved, however, by critiquing this smug ideology that says we all have to vote for Hillary, and that puts various labels on us if we are the least bit hesitant about this? I think there is something constructive, and it has to do with the role of identity politics in all this, as well as the idea that Trump is a fascist.
Of course there is an inundation at present of memes indicating that not voting for Clinton is tantamount to supporting Trump (and therefore fascism). But how about this? –to hell with a social system that offers us this as a “choice.” How about taking this “choice,” especially “this time,” as–all by itself–completely exposing the whole system for a complete sham, one that deserves, and only deserves, what Marcuse called the “great refusal”? We can and should talk about what is truly affirmative, truly constructive, and in my own philosophical work I follow Adorno, Derrida, and Badiou in attempting to conceive of the “yes” that goes beyond the binary alternation of yes and no. This “yes,” however, would also have to transcend the system in which we are offered false or, at any rate, horrible and ridiculous, “choices.”
Before moving toward a consideration of how the Hillary supporters are attempting to shape public sensibilities over this “choice,” however, I want to mention what evoked my friend’s remark about piling on and it all sounding the same after awhile. On Facebook, I had posted a link to an essay by Michelle Alexander that had been in The Nation back at the end of February. Here’s the headline:
Why Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Deserve the Black Vote: From the crime bill to welfare reform, policies Bill Clinton enacted—and Hillary Clinton supported—decimated black America.
And here’s the first paragraph:
Hillary Clinton loves black people. And black people love Hillary—or so it seems. Black politicians have lined up in droves to endorse her, eager to prove their loyalty to the Clintons in the hopes that their faithfulness will be remembered and rewarded. Black pastors are opening their church doors, and the Clintons are making themselves comfortably at home once again, engaging effortlessly in all the usual rituals associated with “courting the black vote,” a pursuit that typically begins and ends with Democratic politicians making black people feel liked and taken seriously. Doing something concrete to improve the conditions under which most black people live is generally not required.
This is a great example of the sort of thing, said by the sort of person, that Hillary supporters ought to find very hard to ignore. However, it seems that the great achievement of the Democrats in recent years is that they have become as immune to criticism and charges of hypocrisy as the Republicans have been for decades. In my view, though, you don’t dismiss Michelle Alexander; you don’t dismiss the author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, a book that is as important and influential as a book can be these days. You don’t screw around with a voice such as hers, or simply try to pretend that she isn’t saying what she is saying.
I like Facebook, generally. I find it weird, actually, that some people who use it regularly also complain about it all the time. For me it’s been a nice way to keep in touch with family and friends, and to meet new people who are into the things I’m into. In some cases this has led to some real friendships and great interactions, as with the progressive rock scene in Mexico City when I taught there a couple years ago. Usually I don’t discuss politics that much on Facebook, or philosophy, either. I like to work things out in a systematic way as best I can, and at whatever length is required, and of course Facebook is in the world of “TLDR” (“too long, didn’t read”). I’d rather talk about my favorite songs by Tommy James and the Shondells (it’s hard to beat “Crystal Blue Persuasion”) or announce to the world that my all-time favorite piece of music is A Love Supreme by John Coltrane. This last is actually a good example of where, if people aren’t into Coltrane, or really know anything about his music, then they probably won’t comment.
Not so with politics, of course. This is a constant source of frustration to those of us who have devoted large portions of our lives to trying to understand society and the possibilities for human survival or, perhaps someday, a more general flourishing. Having worked on Marx for many years, I think it’s right to say that there is no other thinker about whom people feel so free to comment in any way whatsoever, never having read a page. When it comes to Mao, well, don’t get me started, though it is interesting how often the mainstream press seems to think people need to be reminded that there is absolutely nothing good to be said about him–despite the fact that the revolution he led was overturned forty years ago and China has gone a long way down the capitalist road since then. Certainly there are many things to be said about Mao in a critical vein–as, really, there would be about any real revolution, because revolutions come with all kinds of problems and there are no guarantees that things will work out (and liberals always want these guarantees). But it is one thing to investigate these things and to enter into serious conversation about them, and it’s another thing altogether to just sling around the usual lies that are told in capitalist presses. Nowadays, if I hear someone running out this line of crap, I just ask them two questions: What were conditions like in China before 1949?, and, Were there any positive accomplishments of the revolution and the Mao period, or was it all just endless horrors? Tell me something in some detail, not just broad generalities.
In a somewhat different register, though perhaps useful as a discursive strategy for some readers, I might mention that I also developed a good response for detractors who questioned my focus on the philosophy of Jacques Derrida when I was in graduate school. Quite often I had to hear criticisms of Derrida from analytic philosophers, who would claim that Derrida’s work is “irrational,” “nonsensical,” and the like. I learned to simply ask my detractors to give some actual examples from particular books by Derrida, and what I often found out was that not only were such examples not forthcoming, but my detractors couldn’t even provide the actual titles of any of Derrida’s books. To their credit, most actual philosophers and other real intellectuals would allow that they should be more careful about burning and banning books with which they have no familiarity.
I only bring this up to say that Facebook is not so useful for this sort of discussion, it’s too much a part of “say anything politics.” No one really has to take responsibility for what they say, and this goes all the way to the top. An “expert” these days is someone who’s heard a TED talk–and so on.
However, within this field, which is the same field in which electoral politics plays out, Facebook and other social media can serve as helpful barometers and as a way of taking the measure of certain kinds of discourse. Certainly it is the arena in which the “shaming people into supporting Hillary”-campaign is playing out, much more than anything the Trumpsters are doing in the social media or appear able to do. That’s an interesting difference in itself, one that speaks well to the great Marshall McLuhan’s insights into the new media. (The year 2014 was the fiftieth anniversary of both McLuhan’s Understanding Media, and Herbert Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man, and I would say that both have held up really well.)
There is the old excuse for saying hurtful and false things, “I was drunk, I didn’t know what I was saying–I don’t even remember it.” But then, going back millennia there is also the idea that, “In vino veritas.” When it comes to the alcohol talking, it’s not just a matter of the tongue having been loosened, rather, not infrequently people drink in order to say what they really think–without having to take responsibility for it. Facebook often functions the same way, like drunk-dialing. Part of what is “new” in electoral politics “this time” is that Democrats, both great and small, have acquired the habit of being obnoxious jerks in a way not so different from the example set by the Bush-Cheney team. Indeed, they learned this approach from that experience, and it may be that this is all that most of them learned.
Somehow I’ve gotten this far in this “Annals of Parliamentary Cretinism” series without mentioning The West Wing. Besides the aesthetic quality of that show (the writing, acting, production, etc.), which I think was very high, there were two general and complimentary aspects of the show that were very instructive in terms of politics. One was that the show provided a running critique of the G. W. Bush administration, and the other was that the show attempted to exemplify what might be the best possibilities of the existing social system. I tend to think these possibilities are not realistic. In the final episode, it is clear that president Bartlett is wondering whether he really accomplished anything, after eight years.
Some readers here may remember the episode (season 4, episode 71, “Game On”) in which Bartlett is running for a second term and debates a candidate who is pretty much George W. Bush. Bartlett defeats the Republican easily, mainly through a display of basic intelligence and even common sense. Undoubtedly viewers wondered why John Kerry couldn’t have done the same thing in 2004; I mean, how in the world would anyone with a modicum of intelligence lose a debate with G. W. Bush? The answer is the same as what should be that for the too-often repeated dictum about about economy: “It’s the stupid system.” Ronald Reagan was a bit more intelligent than he let on while doing his “folksy” bit, and he certainly had some good lines (“Let me tell you something: I knew Thomas Jefferson. He was a friend of mine, and, Governor, you’re no Thomas Jefferson.”). With Dan Quayle, George W. Bush, and many of those riding in the Republican clown car of candidates in this and the 2012 election, the Republicans have established more than ever the idea that it’s fine if the president of the most powerful country in the world is a person of no culture, no reasoning capability, minimal literacy, even minimum human feeling. For sure, this last quality is part of the job in serving the most vicious ruling class on earth, and, for the rest, the president has handlers. We know that George W. Bush was probably handled more than any U.S. president (except perhaps Kennedy, but that was a different kind of “handling”); whatever anyone thinks about Donald Trump’s level of intelligence or culture, therefore, “competence” isn’t really a question in any of this. By now it’s been well-established that any idiot can be president–any idiot who either is from the ruling class or who has demonstrated a craven devotion to serving the ruling class. It’s at the other end of the scale that there’s a problem–in other words, as much as it is an interesting and pleasing fantasy, there is no “West Wing.”
In the final episode of the series, president Bartlett is clearly concerned with the question whether he really achieved anything at all in his two terms in the White House. In some ways, it’s possible to interpret the Bartlett character as a much better Bill Clinton. Bartlett is an economist, not a lawyer; in “fact,” Bartlett won the Novel Prize in economics. Now, it’s true that there are some winners of that particular prize who are just as bad as some of the war criminals who have won the Peace prize. Milton Friedman comes to mind, obviously, and in general the economics prize goes to someone at the University of Chicago who manages to find some marginally new way of saying that the “free market” will take care of everything. Bartlett is a different sort of character, though; there is a scene in the final episode in which the president’s books are being packed, among them Michel Foucault’s essays on “governability.” There was a brilliant New Yorker cartoon some years ago showing Bill Clinton in thoughtful repose, reading a thick book–his own autobiography, of course. There is no “West Wing,” and that extends to the rest of the idealistic, thoughtful staff that works for president Bartlett as well. Debbie Wasserman Schultz has about as much in common with Donna Moss as Hillary Clinton has with Eleanor Roosevelt.
In the name of “what is said three times is true,” again, there is no “West Wing,” and wishing won’t make it so. One of the favorite terms of abuse for those who are not voting for Hillary, coming from the Hill-bots, is “moron.” Okay, I’m a moron. I’m a moron for watching The West Wing and feeling empathy toward the character that Martin Sheen portrayed and for all of the other characters, and for feeling a slight pull toward wishing that things could work that way–even though, even in terms of the show itself, things mostly don’t work, and what little that does work is going to be overturned soon enough. On the domestic side, one could say that the latter is much more the fault of the Republicans. G. W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” bullshit set education in the United States so far back that it may in fact be no longer fixable. This, along with the “Core Curriculum” that is being pushed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is truly a plan for a society in which people only need whatever minimal levels of “education” required for doing certain jobs, and any breadth of learning is just for a few–and, for the most part, even our exalted leaders couldn’t care less about culture or “intellectual stuff.” (Long ago now are the days when saxophonist Bill Clinton said that one of his favorite musicians is Peter Brotzmann!) The intellectual class ensconced in academia doesn’t help so much either, especially the part of it that has embraced class-averse identity politics. Sure, there is some point to saying that the Republicans have been “the party of No”–except that the Democrats have played their role, in not calling out Bush and others on this stuff, not addressing the way that education is funded, through property taxes, as a class maintenance system that keeps people of color largely in their own “tracks,” too. It’s the stupid system.
If Hillary Clinton is installed, do you suppose the Nobel committee will toss a Peace prize her way, just in the hope that she’ll do something good? After all, her great admirer and advisor Henry Kissinger is exhibit number one for what I was just talking about. My guess is that HRC is a bit too exposed at this point.
We are living in a time of some very teachable moments, if only we were capable of learning a thing or two, instead of just falling back into comfortable positions. We will see a divide between those who truly want to work for some truly radical changes in the world, a “change of world,” even, and those who can only pose as condescending saviors for the supposedly stupid masses. It has been said that there is something in common between the Brexit and the Trump phenomenon in the U.S.; that’s right, but the people who can only bemoan both as harkening disaster are really not seeing the whole picture, or even more than one side of a part of the picture.
One simple thing is that these are the so-called progressives and leftists who all the time go on about democracy–and here, when we actually have some nice, raw, and open expressions of democracy, of course they don’t like it.
Probably most of my friends are so-called “progressives,” some who even think of themselves as “radicals.” Much of my own work in the theory of politics over the years has been concerned with distinguishing something that would truly and radically change the world, and begin to bring about a new world, from what, in the end, is just another point on the “spectrum” (“left” to “right”) of acceptable “politics.” In this respect, of course it isn’t that I don’t like and respect my progressive and leftist friends, but I do get frustrated that so many of them are so committed to just going around and around on the merry go ’round of imperialist politics.
Recently my great friend and fellow philosopher, Peter Steeves, asked me if I knew anyone who could serve as a panelist at our university, for a program put on by the Humanities Center. Peter is the director of this Center, and he is organizing a program under the heading of “Don’t Vote!” (The event will take place on Nov. 7.) Peter said that he doesn’t want to have a “debate” about voting; “the establishment already has enough voices” telling us why we have to vote, why it’s so important, etc. I was able to come up with a couple of names, but both being people from outside of academia. It took me a couple days to think of these people, as at first I was thinking more in terms of other academics, but at the same time thinking it would be very hard to come up with anyone. Contrary to the views of many both inside and outside of academia, there are plenty of real radicals in colleges and universities, but, it seems that, when it comes to this particular question, they are close to uniformly ready to cave in to the logic of lesser-evilism, or to the idea that one forfeits one’s right to speak on political questions (“to complain” is how it is generally put) if one does not participate in the lever-pulling ritual. This time, of course, the situation is “special,” “we have a real choice” because of Donald Trump, etc., so it would be especially irresponsible to not vote. So, in terms of academics, I was having a hard time coming up with anyone, and, further, I didn’t want to waste time in discussing a question that I’ve already written about at ridiculous lengths here at Counerpunch.org and elsewhere, in the case that I mistakenly thought my contact was someone who shared my view about voting.
The program is going forward, but the very idea that someone could express this point of view openly is not getting a good reception from some in the administration and many in the faculty. I’m excited that the radical cartoonist Stephanie McMillan will speak.
I’m very grateful to Alain Badiou for many things. One of these is making it possible to use the term “communism” in a positive and unapologetic sense again. Another is the revival of the term, from V. I. Lenin, “parliamentary cretinism.” Let’s be good “Christians” here and “hate the sin, not the sinner.” It’s not that those who heed the demand to vote, either enthusiastically or unenthusiastically, are cretins. Instead, it is that they should know better, but, as with so many things, the social system makes suckers and chumps of them. Sometimes it seems that academics with Ph.D. after their names are the first in line for this particular form of chump-dom. I know that what I am saying sounds condescending; I don’t mean it to be, but it’s also the case that a great deal of system-related “politics” is centered on tone and tonality and how one reacts to these, with little room to think about or speak to actual content. It remains a source of frustration with me that, every four years, liberal and supposedly leftist academics fall right in line with the script.
Ordinarily, this doesn’t matter–it’s not as if academics are some sort of power bloc, or even that, as intellectuals, they have tremendous influence over anything. Think about who is considered an “intellectual” in the mainstream media, especially regarding political questions, it’s often just someone who can manage to put on a bow tie, or someone who can speak with smug confidence–in other words, David Brooks. Did you know, by the way, that Brooks teaches courses at Yale based on his own newspaper columns?
However, there is indeed something different this time, but it’s not the thing most people think it is, namely the Trump phenomenon.
Whatever is different this time is not a reason for getting involved in this horrible system that is imperialist and anti-working people, anti-woman, anti-people of color, and pro-any form of domination or oppression that can be mobilized for the purposes of squeezing value out of people and converting that value into the wealth of a very few.
Is it different, for example, that Donald Trump is an even louder, less careful or circumspect voice for oppressive and obnoxious positions that have been core to the Republican Party for a long time? It’s very hard, or it should be, to think that Trump represents something more oppressive or more fascist than Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and John Ashcroft. Even Trump’s supposed “anger” is far less sinister than the careful brutality of these three. On the other hand, it could be said that Trump has been pretty brilliant at riding waves of resentment, which is certainly a touchstone of fascism. But this goes more to the question of what Trump may have unleashed within a certain social milieu, and what may have coalesced in that milieu around Trump’s candidacy.
Is there really a movement there? Other than the revival of the term, “silent majority”–which is what, irony?–the Trump supporters are hardly silent–I don’t see much of a real movement beyond a movement to get Trump elected. That’s not really a movement. In 2008, Barack Obama had something like a real movement, to the point where the Democratic Party apparatus was careful to dismantle the movement after the election. It doesn’t look as if anything is coalescing around Trump to that extent. This isn’t to say that what he has whipped up isn’t terrible, but a good deal of it is resentment from people who are of “no account” in this society–which in this case I mean people who “don’t count”–misdirected (yes, with Trump’s help) toward people who generally count for even less.
Trump’s rhetoric here is certainly more uncouth than what we’ve heard from other Republican candidates, though there are aspects of it that are not so different from liberal hero Daniel Patrick Moynahan.
Hearing Trump’s speech accepting the Republican nomination, the thread that I found most troubling started with a sentence that set a world speed record for going from sugar to shit: “We will be a country of generosity and warmth, but we will also be a country of law and order.” There is never, truly never, anything but reactionary content given to those last three words. Trump fills out “law and order” with well-worn themes about a resurgence of crime in American cities. Trump even argues that the “violence in our streets and the chaos in our communities” is part of an overall social crisis that now describes the overall American situation. However, in his “straightforward assessment of the state of our nation,” in which Trump promises to present the facts “plainly and honestly,” two very important points are vastly off. First, of course, it is completely ridiculous that Trump focuses on the attacks on cops and not on the attacks on black people and others. This is clearly an appeal to the worst elements in his social base, either outright racists or people who are quite deluded about the nature of things and in particular the nature of the police in this society. At the same time, and second, while Trump has indeed said some good things about the crimes of Wall Street, he hasn’t gone far enough in calling the top movers and shakers there outright criminals who ought to be locked up for a long time.
On the first point, the plain and honest truth is not only that there are no “good cops”–because, if there really were, we wouldn’t have the question of “bad cops” nearly to the extent that we do–but that the police in America, in big cities and small, are losing credibility altogether. That part of Trump’s social base that clings to what is essentially the “Blue Lives Matter”-view are no different (sometimes literally) than religious fundamentalists who desperately clutch to utterly outworn ideas. The problem is that this desperation is hard to beat with just “facts,” and politicians such as the leading figures of the Democratic Party have a deep interest in maintaining the status quo of the two sides of the “spectrum” of official politics–and a concomitant interest in not getting to the root of the problem. What diehard Democrats and HRC supporters seem completely unable to understand is that, because of this dynamic in which they are fully implicated, the fact that they are presently being kicked in the ass by it is their own damn fault.
So, yeah, there is absolutely nothing to be said for any representation of “Law and Order.” (I do enjoy the TV shows, but, as with “The West Wing,” there is something fundamentally false about them and that foments illusions–especially for liberals. It’s a constant feature of the various “Law and Order” series that the cops initially arrest the wrong person, then, realizing their mistake, work overtime and furiously to find the real perpetrator. As if. The reality is that, a good deal of the time, some relatively random black guy is arrested–or just shot–and railroaded into prison without a trial.) Truly, to hell with law and order.
The rest of the speech was not nearly as unhinged as Democrats seem to think, or, at least, those parts of it that were unhinged are those points on which the Democrats have failed to offer any more constructive alternative–for the aforementioned reason that the fundamentally systemic parameters of our present society cannot be addressed within those parameters. So, of course “the wall” is ridiculous in every way, and morally disgusting, but what can HRC or Obama say, when they have been involved in deporting more people than any other U.S. administration? So, sure, Hillary and her surrogates such as Elizabeth Warren can say “We’re not going to build any wall,” but they don’t really have anything to say that they are going to do. Trump has rather masterfully turned the tables on the Democrats on this and other points of his “positive” (-ly ridiculous program; not on all points, however), and made the Democrats look like the new “party of no.”
In totality, it is hard to see why Trump’s speech should be characterized as unhinged so much as not overly coherent. This seems a hopeful thing, however, reflective of the fact that Trump’s “Make America Great Again” is not a “vision” capable of sustaining a coherent program. Now, this might sound like a similarity with some version of fascism, which in the past has also involved a large dose of what could be called “incoherent syncretism” held temporarily together by an upsurge of reactionary passion (“will”), in the context of a militarized society and military campaigns that play on the loyalties of a desperate populace. Anything is possible, of course, but none of this is really in the offing in a Trump presidency. To pretend that it is, and that HRC supporters are part of some new “Resistance” movement against fascism is some of the most ridiculous bullshit ever concocted by this insane system and, in particular, its liberal defenders. This maneuver, this ruse, should also be massively offensive to anyone who has actually fought fascism or any other form of violently repressive regime–including the regime that has been presided over by Barack Obama and the Clintons.
Trump tells many lies, of course. But they are the lies of a very rich salesperson, a dealmaker in the economic sphere. Anyone who becomes president, truly anyone, will have to be a liar for the system, too, though an argument could be made that at least Trump, unlike Clinton, would not be motivated financially. (The system’s various sharp ends of the stick have other motivations kept in reserve, to be sure.) Is it not clear enough that the ruling class is very afraid that Trump will not tell the lies that a president needs to?
The likelihood, in any case, is that nothing of the domestic program of Trump will be implemented, including the wall. Whether Trump would be allowed to enact his hesitancy with regard to foreign military interventions and military threats against Russia and China, and Iran, and so on, is unclear. This really depends on whether he can stand up to those who have an interest in pushing such an agenda, which is more or less most of the ruling class, especially that part more directly involved in globally-mobile finance capital. What is much more clear is that Hillary Clinton has positioned herself as the best person to carry out this militarist agenda, and this, and no other reason, is why the broad spectrum of the military establishment (including the alphabet soup of “intelligence” and secret police–and torture, etc.–agencies) have lined up behind her. That HRC supporters will not confront this fact and its possible consequences is truly galling and reprehensible.
The day of publication of my previous installment of the annals of parliamentary cretinism (“The Triumph of Imperialist Feminism”), a liberal friend sent me a link to a YouTube audio track of Sam Harris talking about why Donald Trump is dangerous. My friend said that just listening to the first five or ten minutes of the talk would give one “a great perspective before the media circus tonight” (meaning the night when Donald Trump appeared before the Republican National Convention).” In its basic outline, it was always unlikely that this particular circus would be any different from what the corporate media generally gives us; just louder, I suppose. However, I found just the first minute of what Sam Harris had to say already silly and unbearable. As much as it pains me to do it, I’ll transcribe:
Here are my reasons for worrying about Donald Trump; and I say this as someone who understands everyone’s reservations about Clinton. But, one thing you can’t say about her is that she is not qualified, or that she is profoundly ignorant of how the world works, or that she’s unintelligent. These are, these are not things you can say about her, no matter how much you hate her personally. President Obama just endorsed her today, and he said, “I don’t think there’s ever been someone so qualified to hold this office.” Now, perhaps that’s slightly hyperbolic, but it’s not a crazy thing to say. Imagine someone saying that of Trump, that would be a statement so rankly partisan and propagandistic, as to be indistinguishable from mental illness. It is a claim that cannot be made with a straight face. That difference matters … . (stopped at 1:05)
My friend called Sam Harris’s perspective “thoughtful.” Well, he’s a good-looking, well-spoken fellow, and certainly intelligent. But one thing that is required for actual “thoughtfulness” is that you don’t just repeat what’s already been said many times before–all this content-less stuff about “qualification” and “intelligence.”
And so, everyone who doesn’t fall in line with this bleat, and who, instead, thinks there is something to be said for Donald Trump, is mentally ill. Okay, at least we now know the appeal of Trump to millions of people–it turns out that a significant part of the American population is cray-cray. Q.E.D.! In addition to taking such a judgment–truly judgmental in the ugliest way–as itself “rankly partisan and propagandistic,” we need to back up a bit and consider the “rationality” and even “insanity” of the social system on the basis of which the supposed difference between HRC and the Donald matters. To invoke not only Alain Badiou, but also again the great Herbert Marcuse (and numerous others, among whom could be cited central influences for the aforementioned, Freud and Lacan), that which runs counter to the totalizing logic of systemic rationality can only appear to be “irrational.” To simplify, a person would have be “crazy” to think that there is anything other than this existing social system.
Is Trump truly outside of this systemic rationality, however? To say something straightforwardly Marxist about this, not every product of the contradictions of capital is truly an innovation of a revolutionary sort. Whether fascist or not, Trump is a product of this system–though the ways in which this is the case do in fact reflect certain new, and, significantly, “out of control” aspects of the system. To be brief, these aspects can be grouped under the heading of the “new media.” Again we can invoke Marshall McLuhan and his concept of the “epistemological ratio” of various media. (For what it is worth, while I don’t accept the idea that our shiny, postmodern, ever-more media-permeated world is something completely different from what has come before–it certainly isn’t post-capitalist, I also don’t accept the “nothing to see here, folks”-view–which is the view of Badiou.) Trump is not outside the system that he is a product of, but he is on a certain “edge” of this system,” and causing trouble for the ruling class.
This is where Trump is at least ignoring “how the world works,” though to say that he is “profoundly ignorant” on this point seems far from the case. What one could say instead is that HRC is profoundly aware of how power is supposed to work within the present imperialist power relations of the world; this constitutes her supposedly great intelligence and qualifications. There was a joke going around back in the days when G. W. Bush and Tony Blair were getting ready to invade Iraq, concerning the so-called “special relationship” between the U.S. and the U.K.: this relationship consists in the U.S. telling the U.K. what to do and the U.K. doing it. Or, you see Hillary’s deep understanding of power when she says that young black men are “super-predators” who “have to be brought to heel.” That’s right, she knows how things work.
What the ruling class cares about is that Trump is ignoring in some respects what has to be done to maintain U.S. power in the world. It is on this point that Sam Harris is both willfully ignorant and full of shit, while posing as the arbiter of who is really qualified and intelligent, and who is mentally ill.
Meanwhile, where the Democratic Party has come to is to complain that the reason that Donald Trump doesn’t know how the world works is that he won’t know “how to stand up to Russia and China.” He won’t know how to advance American exceptionalism. Indeed, the top generals don’t trust him and are already threatening mutiny–whereas Hillary knows how to lay down the law, whether it’s against Serbia (she and Chelsea flew in “under fire,” after all–at least that’s how Hillary remembers it), or Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, and Chelsea Manning.
* * *
Somehow, for HRC supporters, a great deal has come down to “character.” They forget that this is not a great question to raise in the vicinity of the Clintons, though the media does a good deal of covering for the latter. For instance, the media will ask Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka about her father’s attitudes toward and treatment of women, but they don’t ask Chelsea Clinton the same question.
There’s no doubt that Donald Trump is a cad, a lout, at the very least. There’s no doubt that Trump at least puts racism and xenophobia to work for his own purposes. His relationship to Christianity is not dissimilar to Hitler’s–he’ll use Christianity thematically to stir up a part of the population against some supposed oppressor of Christianity (in this case Muslims instead of Jews), though he has no commitment to it himself. Probably it is a marker of our interesting postmodern times that Trump’s brief, failed attempt to gain some Christian bonafides came and went without causing much of a disturbance among his followers. Then again, this appears to be another example of where Trump has been brilliant at success through “failure.” It seems that large numbers of people will accept whatever Trump does and whatever he is about, as long as he is not about being a politician–which, on the other hand, is all that Hillary Clinton is about.
Hence, in the view of Hillary supporters, she has character, and Trump doesn’t. That’s a losing argument on the face of it, and one doesn’t get around things by calling HRC’s energetic shilling and militarizing “public service.”
Liberals (including those who fancy themselves “progressives”) gravitate toward low-hanging fruit, and all they have are what amount to ad hominems. George W. Bush was not a person of great character, to say nothing of Dick Cheney, yet all the Democrats did in their case was to lie prostrate and confirm the Bush/Cheney coup, affirm the abrogation of the constitution (via the Patriot Act) and the many attendant violations of civil rights, and support invasions of countries that had never done anything to the United States. All they had on offer was to wait for the pendulum of “realistic” politics to swing back to their side, until once again it was “our turn.” That’s all they have for anyone, just fall in line once again, because the alternative is supposedly “unthinkable”–and, look, he’s a nasty piece of work as well. And now the HRC supporters are absolutely apoplectic and in a state of disbelief because many people are not buying the line of bullshit they run out every four years.
Setting the terms this way, in which we are supposed to be having a conversation about personal “character,” works well when nothing about the character of the social system can be put on the table. And yet, with the bar having been set so low, and with the Donald doing everything in his power to set a low bar of personal character, Hillary Clinton may lose an election that should have been a cakewalk.
With the terms set this way, why are the Democrats having such a hard time? Here I will throw a bone their way. As much as I disagree with my friends who are either real supporters of HRC or who are making the argument that HRC absolutely has to be supported because Trump as alternative is unthinkable, I don’t think they are people indecent in character. They mean well. Yes, they have certain blind spots that betoken what I think is not only what could be called an ethical-epistemological failure, but they are hardly unusual in this. On the other hand, unfortunately, this allows them to make blithe statements about the social structure of the world, where imperialism is definitive of the basic set-up.
The “argument” seems to be that we can just take imperialism for granted these days, that’s just the way the world is set up, and we can’t do anything about that, so we have to vote for Hillary on other grounds. Actually, I shouldn’t dismiss out of hand that this is some kind of argument, perhaps it even has merits if one accepts the premise, that there is no world beyond imperialism, or no world that we can do anything about. Some HRC supporters try to nuance this by saying that they will keep the pressure on Hillary about her militarism. I don’t really sense much conviction behind such assertions, but whatever. The “argument” could just as well be boiled down to the idea that, whoever one supports as the face that is put on the system, one is supporting imperialism, and therefore one should have nothing to do with “electoral politics,” at least at the presidential level.
It does seem to me, and I realize this is an ugly charge to make, that most of the people who say that the system is going to be imperialist no matter what, so it’s better to support HRC and then supposedly “keep the pressure on with regard to her militarism” (this is more Facebook-generated material here), really don’t care about imperialism. Imperialism is essentially meaningless to these people, they don’t know about it and they don’t care about it. They are not among the social class that has to militarily enforce imperialist global social relations, and in fact they would prefer to stay away from these people–HRC liberals find that whole scene distasteful. That’s an ugly thing to charge, but I don’t know how else to account for their ridiculous responses on this point–which are even uglier, because they are blithe. The same person who wrote that they would keep the pressure on HRC also wrote that she supports HRC with “every fiber of her being.” She also claims to be as “disgusted with the system” as I am. Aside from this being clearly not true, the question is more, “What is this ‘system’ that we are both disgusted by?”
Of course we should be against U.S. “militarism,” whoever is advocating it. It is never justified on the part of the United States. The Clintons, of course, played a very large role in promoting the idea of “humanitarian intervention,” especially in the former Yugoslavia. Indeed, this intervention set things up nicely for liberals who supposedly are anti-war and anti-militarism in some “general way,” but, in practice, always find a way to get behind whatever war or military intervention the U.S. wants to wage–because there’s some “new Hitler” out there, or something. The “We came, we saw, he died!”-followed by vicious cackling-intervention in Libya was also labelled a humanitarian intervention. And thus, Clinton to Clinton, the Democrats have shaped themselves into the determined, responsible Party of War.
Back in 1999 I had an unpleasant evening at a party mainly consisting mostly of philosophy grad students and a few faculty and staff from my department. Our administrative assistant, a Trotskyist (or neo-Trotskyist, from the ISO) and I found ourselves confronted by a bunch of typically-inebriated grad students (and a boyfriend or girlfriend or two) and one visiting faculty member from Sweden. The only less-unpleasant takeaway from the scene was that at least a momentary Trotskyist-Maoist alliance was formed. My comrade and I were besieged with poorly-formed justifications for humanitarian intervention, as well as claims about something needing to be done about the destabilization of Europe from our Swedish colleague. My comrade and I held strong to the view that not only was there no justification for U.S. intervention in the case of Yugoslavia, but that other people were going to pay the price down the line for the justifications that were offered in that case. Things were said on the other side about how Yugoslavia was part of the Soviet bloc (it wasn’t), while nothing was said on the other side about the role of Germany in the split-up. Besides wanting to gripe about the low level of “political” discourse among those who spend their time studying Heidegger, Deleuze, Kristeva, etc.–but also Marx or twentieth-century Marxist thinkers such as Adorno or Althusser or even Gramsci–or now, too many who teach these figures, the big issue is that the Clintons were right in the middle of further opening the door to this time of endless interventions.
It’s easy for me to remember the date of this encounter, because it happened to be my birthday–and what a crummy birthday that was. But what is even much more significantly messed-up is that the always-innocent Democrats of that time have, for the most part, not learned much of anything since then. There are some exceptions, though, and I am thankful for every one of them. We have a lot of people angry at us right now; we’re spoiling their fun, and they’d rather lay it on us that “their” horrible candidate doesn’t have things locked up so well. It perhaps makes the Hill-bots more angry that we don’t really need to be so angry at them, even though we get tired of their high-handed and silly moralisms; they want something that’s more clearly “on the other side,” so they know how to draw the “political” lines according to their sense of what politics is–their false sense. At the same time, it is significant that they aren’t really angry at outright Trump supporters, for whom they only feel contempt. So it’s a sad scene for the HRC supporters, but what we have to give people is a little clarity, as best we can–hoping that reality itself, even if through the screens of the new media, will also provide clarity by and by.
One issue that seems to be rising to the surface now, in the name of “Whatever you think about Hillary, Trump must be stopped,” is that we are in some “real world” in which those of us who are critical of Hillary and are not cheering for her ascendency are getting hung up on principle, when supposedly the “reality” is more important. Supposedly principle, critical thinking, analysis, and theory, are just luxuries that have no place in the “real world” of the present situation. At the very least, such “realists” say, these kinds of commitments and work have to wait until this election is done with.
I disagree with this position completely. If anything, this is a very important moment in which we have to fight for principle, and, to quote Badiou, we have to do theoretical work that is “wild and experimental.”
The “realists” are indeed realists, but of what might be called “postmodern realpolitik,” and, we could add, of the “Clintonian variety.”
What are the principles for which we need to fight? In the context of the current situation, I would say first of all internationalism. It seems straightforward–though perhaps it is not so much so for many today–that internationalism unfolds into the additional principles of anti-imperialism and anti-interventionism.
It is horrifying that so many HRC supporters are eager to embrace Clinton’s affirmation of “American exceptionalism.” This is a good point where the thing they say over and over again has to be turned around. HRC supporters are always saying, “Whatever you think of Hillary, you have to support her, because of Trump.” Instead, whatever one thinks of Hillary–her intelligence, experience, qualifications–she has to be opposed, because of American exceptionalism.
To be charitable, it is possible that many of Hillary’s supporters don’t know what American exceptionalism is, and others perhaps have very little sense of the significance of this issue. “American exceptionalism” is the idea that the United States is a singularly special nation-state in the world, that it has unlimited sovereignty when all else have limited sovereignty, and that the rules that ought to apply to others ought not and do not apply to the United States. It should not be hard to see how, in this conception, both the conception and the actuality of the American nation-state gets mixed up with an apocalyptic eschatology.
Now, while we’re in the realm of theology, we shouldn’t get our teleology mixed up; American exceptionalism isn’t coming down from God, but it is also not coming out of Hillary Clinton. If American hegemony is going to be maintained in the world, all sorts of measures have to be taken, from continually batting down supposedly destabilizing elements such as Col. Qaddafi (in this case bringing on the real destabilization, with great wreckage and loss of life), to trying to maintain control of the world’s sea lanes (hence all these provocations against China in the South China Sea), and to try to keep Russia from becoming more of an actor on the world stage. But why does American hegemony have to be maintained, and why is this drive being expressed in the main through the candidacy of Hillary Clinton at this time? These are not questions for Hillary supporters, these are simply things that are taken for granted–and, unfortunately, there is nothing unusual about this.
From a “moral” standpoint, or from the standpoint of real politics, of course, the hegemony does not have to be maintained–quite the contrary. The drive to maintain hegemony comes from the imperialist form of the capitalist system; as the United States sits at the top of this system, and has the greatest interest in maintaining it (precisely because capital does not stand still, it is either expanding or contracting, on the upswing or the downswing), “living embodiments of capital” come forward to represent imperialist social relations. Hillary Clinton has worked very hard to position herself this way, and all of the central institutions of power in the United States have embraced Hillary Clinton as their representation. Somehow this either eludes or is not important to supporters of Hillary Clinton, and neither does it seem to occur to them that their own cheerleading for these viscous mechanisms of power incur complicities and liabilities on their part.
In this context, Donald Trump’s great “crime” is to recognize two things: 1) that there are other powers at work in the world that also have interests, and that it is a very dangerous thing to ramp up tensions with these other powers; 2) there are great costs to maintaining this hegemony, and perhaps there should be some discussion as to what is being bought for many billions of dollars. As I’ve said repeatedly, none of this reflects internationalism or anti-imperialism on the part of the Donald. It does, however, raise issues that are not just uncomfortable for Hillary, but, even much more, for the political establishment she serves.
However, we now know the Hillary camp has promoted Donald Trump as the opponent all along, in order to provide a contrast favorable to HRC. Despite every thoroughly messed-up, bordering-on-some-kind-of- fascism (or whatever it is), thing that Trump spews, I still think we should take pleasure in the fact that the Hillary-camp strategy has backfired to a significant extent. And of course it would backfire, as it should, because this is not real politics, it’s an even crazier example of the spectacle that the system rolls out every four years, an even more powerful black hole to suck people’s energies and whatever inclination they have toward any larger vision of what the world could be. The only real question, “this time,” is whether the spectacle/charade that has been orchestrated/unleashed might spin completely out of control.
My starting point for discussing parliamentary cretinism is not Badiou, but instead Sartre’s essay, “Elections: A Trap for Fools.” (Badiou’s position on electoral politics is very similar to Sartre’s.) Back in 1996, when Bill Clinton was running for re-election, against Bob Dole, I gave a talk at the annual meeting of the North American Sartre Society (of which I’m a long-time member), with the unimaginative title, “Elections: Still a trap for fools?” I presented the paper, or parts of it, in a number of other venues (and it is published in my little book on Sartre, The Radical Project). My fellow Sartreans at the Sartre Society did not like the paper for the most part, and most other people didn’t like it, either–because they didn’t like Sartre’s argument to begin with, and also the standard responses were trotted out. This sounds positively bizarre now, and I’m sure the usual suspects don’t remember any of this, but of course we had to hear that Bob Dole was some kind of monster, that the world would end if he became president, that one “absolutely has to vote for Clinton,” etc.
Those were the days! I love my fellow Sartreans, but I have always found it strange that a significant number of them seem to have little agreement with Sartre on his political positions and arguments–indeed, there’s a strange trend where many take the side of Camus. (For a riveting account of the Sartre-Camus relationship that is a real page-turner, I heartily recommend Camus and Sartre: The Story of a Friendship and the Quarrel that Ended It, by Ronald Aronson.) To be sure, Camus was a true hero of the French Resistance, and almost certainly a better novelist than Sartre (in my humble opinion, as they say), but, like many who were willing to fight for the liberation of France from German occupation (the latter abetted by a significant section of the French ruling class and the French people), he had deep limitations when it came to lands that were occupied by France itself–including Algeria, where Camus was born. I suppose that, if Camus could not make his way to the ethical position on colonized lands, it is even harder for average Americans who don’t know Afghanistan from banana-stand, or Iran from Iraq (many on the coasts don’t know Iowa from Ohio, for that matter). And hence they have little sense of the realities of U.S. imperialism. In the abstract, while my Sartrean friends undoubtedly care more about the military interventions of American imperialism than the average HRC supporter, somehow this doesn’t play the role that it should when it comes to taking a larger, systemic view.
Somehow, despite the difficulties of coming to a perspective that is beyond “for now, this is what we have”–“we” don’t really “have” this electoral system, either–the reality of the imperialist system and its military interventions (and military-economic occupations the world over) has to be taken on. From the standpoint of the existing system, this is an impossible task. Indeed, the existing system has done an outstanding job of planting into the minds of people that “there is no alternative” (the “TINA thesis,” with apologies to my superb friends who are named “Tina”). It seems that liberals and too-many so-called “progressives” (and too many who want to call themselves radicals) are the most susceptible to what should be called an “anti-idea.”
Most likely I will get my sorry ass kicked for this, and perhaps I should, but it seems to me that one thing that has made identity politics blow up so much is its promise of some kind of “alternative” to ordinary life in the existing system. To be sure, all of this is sent into orbit and beyond by the social media, by the reach of this media, obviously, but also by the fact that Facebook, especially, is a great place to announce and “try on” various identities. To be clear, I am not saying that there is anything wrong with this, per se; in fact, there is much good about it.
Further, in general great care should be taken in approaching this question. We are not at the stage of things where this can go without saying. I have nothing but sympathy and compassion for people who are struggling with their sense of self and all that goes into this sense and the difficulties of embodied life, which is the life we know. I also agree with Alain Badiou that the things that make for human creativity and great human achievements have to do with a kind of transcendence of the material situations in which we find ourselves.
In this light, I want to make a proposal that would almost certainly help move all political discussions forward. Badiou argues that all true politics is universalist; politics is of the masses. Politics is guided by a truth that appears in the midst of our world of untruths, it creates a break in this world, and it unfolds (though what Badiou calls “fidelity” and a “truth procedure”) in a fundamentally different direction. All previously-existing relationships are re-cast. This is the case under all of what Badiou calls the “conditions of philosophy”–politics, science, art, love. Take the last of these, for example; when two people fall in love (forming not a “one,” but rather a true “two”), a new “world” is created for these two people, and all other relationships in the lives of these two people are re-cast. We have to be careful about modeling what can happen under one condition of philosophy with another (e.g., expanding the love situation into the “body politic”), but here the example of love will work well enough for us. If something new “really happens,” then all around this new thing the world is re-cast, and this affects everyone in that situation.
The proposal here is that, if Badiou is right that true politics is “of the masses,” and that a real change in the world is a change for everyone, then let us define the opposite as “anti-politics.” So then, What is “the opposite”? To begin with, true politics fundamentally relates to truth, and anti-politics does not. The alternative, which we know from the Republic of Plato, is power. Humanity has spent most of its existence in the world of (“justice is the interest of the stronger”) Thracymachus, the world in which power, without any concern for truth (except in some purely strategic, calculative sense), decides. To make this into a formula that works well enough with both Plato and Kant (and thus, at least here, to not get into the difference between the ontological and epistemological registers), and both Derrida and Badiou, true politics is not the mere calculation of interests. Neither, it could be added, is politics the mere calculation of anything.
Two little footnotes: one having to do with truth and power, the second having to do with Marx and class. I will leave these footnotes unbound (by parentheses or whatever), as we will have to break into any brackets soon enough.
First, an important example to consider here is that of the U.S. Navy, which is caught within a conflict between truth and power, even if the truth here is perhaps not the Truth of a real politics. The U.S. Navy is a major, integral part of the power structure of the United States, and this structure is dominated by interests that, on the whole, deny climate change. However, the Navy has all these big boats that must spend some of their time in docks, and already the viability of some of these docks–such as those at Norfolk, Virginia, the largest naval base in the world–are threatened by rising water. We could call this situation a contradiction of capitalism, which it is, but I think there is something more here as regards the very category of “contradiction,” which is to say the dialectic. More on this in a moment.
Second, class, and in particular the existence of the working class, remains the unspeakable of all-American anti-politics. In a specific, circumscribed way, the fraying of the system represented by the candidacies of Trump and Sanders, and then the ascendency of Trump and (through obvious machinations) Clinton, has allowed part of the working class to appear. Things need to go much further and in a different direction, to say the least–something that can never happen within the parameters of the existing system and the way it sets the terms of things. Marx’s contributions remain essential here, and there is even a widespread change of mood in the United States that is starting to see this. One indication of this was of course the fact that many were willing to embrace a candidate who is at least associated with the word “socialism.”
To return to the themes of truth and power, however, we have to deal with the fact that Marx’s legacy divides into at least two, and this divided legacy has its roots in Marx’s own thought. The side of Marx that tends to be expressed in a great many invocations of his name, and invocations of the word “socialism,” takes the working class to be identical with an “interest.” Hence the tendency toward merely calculative thinking (which, in Badiou’s terms, or in Heidegger’s for that matter, is not true thinking; indeed, mere calculation is unthinking) even in Marxism. This strain of unthinking calculation of interest runs so deeply in much of what has called itself Marxism or socialism that it does not even seem to be a criticism to many Marxists and socialists to point it out. To simplify, one might say that what becomes of Marx’s orientation toward the working class when the other side of Marx, the side occluded by the perspective of mere calculation, is left out, can be called “economism” or even “workerism.”
On the other side, not just the “good” side but also the side oriented toward the good of humankind and even of the earth, Marx is a universalist, Enlightenment thinker. There have been many debates, some implicit and some more explicit, about the question of justice in Marx, and what status it has within Marx’s overall scheme of thought–and this question is also related to whether we should call that thought “philosophy” or something else. The general trend among Marxists, or at least proponents of so-called “scientific Marxism,” in the United States is that philosophy is more or less worthless in any case, and more recently this trend has been joined by what I am calling (after the title of an essay by Kant) “the anti-philosophical tone recently heard in science.” Among those evoking this tone are Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Christoph Koch (neuroscientist), and even the philosopher Daniel Dennett. These and other figures are part of a new positivism that doesn’t even have the virtues of the version in the first half of the twentieth century (the logical positivism of the Vienna Circle) in which at least philosophical positions were developed.
Economism is a spirit-killer, it sucks the life out of the attempt to bring forth a new society. More to the point, it is a politics-killer, it is a corrosive element that Marx let into his thinking in the name of science and empiricism. Thus there is no theory of politics in Marx, and on this point Marx fits too well with the generally anti-Plato trends of thought in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. (This rejection of Plato is explored in Kenneth Reinhard’s Introduction to Alain Badiou’s “hyper-translation” of Republic.) Obviously, I am simply touching the surface of all of the issues that could be explored here, but the point here is that, in lieu of politics we will always have–“spontaneously,” as it were, and in Lenin’s sense, because this is the very fabric of our culture–economism; that is, we will have anti-politics. (“Spontaneously”–this is why some business executives will have Milton Friedman on the shelf, but they don’t actually have to read him to know that the “responsibility” of a business is to make a profit.) Marx the Enlightenment, universalist thinker proposed that it is the historical work of the proletariat to “emancipate itself and all humankind.”
One would have thought that the Stalin period, which pushed the contradiction between concrete particularity and abstract universalism to the max, would have inspired very different approaches to Marxism and communism. And indeed this did happen, from many different directions and realms of activity, from theory to practice. In my view, Mao and the Chinese revolutions went the furthest in practice in creating an alternative to Stalinism, even while remaining trapped within certain of its parameters, in particular concerning the problem of the state (or, the State) and what can be called the problem of institutions. In theory, Sartre gave us a great deal that still bears examination and development, in his Critique of Dialectical Reason (which could be said to consist in three volumes, the finished vol. 1, the unfinished vol. 2, and the “introduction,” Search for a Method). What Badiou proposes is that these problems of the Stalin period, and the “Stalinist” problems that Mao attempted to address but ultimately was not able to break through, and therefore the problems that characterize the twentieth-century “sequence” of communism, are problems in Marx to begin with, and that we need a new “instantiation” (which is a very Platonic way to put it) of “the communist idea.”
Okay, again, this barely touches the surface of things, and I realize that everything in the immediate foregoing is quite controversial, and yet what is not controversial, except among die-hard “liberals,” who, in their really-kind-of-weirdly-craven support for HRC, is that humanity has to reinvent politics.
What will primarily be in common with reinventions of politics in the past, including the sequence of communism initiated by Marx and incarnating in the Paris Commune, the Bolshevik Revolution, and the Chinese Revolution, is precisely universalism.
Perhaps the name of universalism in our time remains proletarian internationalism, though clearly we also need some new thinking about class. Yes, we will still look to the important figures of the past, but in the sense that we will look to an encyclopedia or to scholarship; what we cannot do is remain constrained by how things were understood or done before.
Believe me, I would rather stay in the lofty heights of discussing the reinvention of politics, a new sequence of communism, and the theoretical and practical work we can do today–and I will return to this for a moment at the end of this discussion. However, for now let us deal with the fact that anti-politics also keeps going, and indeed reinvents itself, and it does this in a “groove” that is laid down by capitalism. The latter also has to continually reinvent itself, and we have to confront this despite the fact that Marx thought there would come a point when capitalisms “revolutions in production” could go no further. The arguments about “limits to capitalism” have to be set on the side–though perhaps not to the point that Badiou does, where we show no interest in political economy–at least to where we do not let this “science” dominate the discussion. Indeed, when political economy replaces philosophy, we are already on the road to economism. (Hence the great value of Althusser’s reading of Capital as a philosophical text.) The temptation toward economism, which is the temptation to sacrifice internationalism and anti-imperialism to not only workerism, but to divide up the working class by nationalities, ethnicities, etc., will always have a groove to run in as long as capitalism remains the dominant social form in the world.
By yet other names, this groove–or rut, really–is that of continuity and consensus. Sometimes it is an easy path, sometimes not so easy, but in any case it is the path of “building on” things that are “here,” on “what we have for now.” It is the path associated with present knowledge–so we could also call this rut “epistemology.” It is not hard to see why this is an attractive way to go, for those who–often for reasons of their own interests–can’t let go of the existing system. What Badiou says about this present knowledge is captured well enough by something Albert Einstein said some time ago: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” My own way of putting this is that we can find ourselves in a position where everything we know stands against us.
Whatever liberal or what-have-you justifications there are for voting for HRC just digs even deeper into the rut. What needs further examination is whether that part of support for Hillary Clinton comes from identity politics is itself a “new” form of anti-politics that itself is bound, in the end, to mere interest and calculation.
Let us go one more step on the question of class as it seems to be understood under the regime of “what we have for now.” Donald Trump has done a good job of capturing a certain constituency that has been left hanging in the existing political system. The fact is that this constituency never belonged to the Democratic Party, even if that Party has all the same abandoned it. The point for present purposes, though, is that Trump captures this constituency in terms only of power, or, it could be said, in these terms and in terms of negating whatever truth there is to the grievances of this sub-set of humanity. Even if the terms of this need to be developed further, the basic structure is completely clear: What has been rejected by one “party” (power mechanism) because of its own anti-politics–the Democratic Party is interested in other constituencies, other sub-sets defined in terms other than class–is taken up by Donald Trumps in a way that is also anti-politics. All of this is simply calculation under the imperatives of power, even if power that is also (and always) divided against itself.
Does this give us a social system that is a “night in which all cows are black”? Perhaps not absolutely, but not only because there is a very small chance that there could be a time to hope that one faction of the ruling class wins out over another, but much more because those cows, no matter how dark the night, will still rub against each other in ways that generate sparks. The whole point of my articles this “election season”–which ought now to be called the “season of manic anti-politics” or some more felicitous expression–is that there is nothing good to be accomplished by getting involved in this charade of politics, this anti-politics.
The point, then, is not to support Donald Trump in all this, but instead to recognize that, because of contradictions within capitalism and imperialism itself, the door is being opened at least a little bit to the possibility of real politics.
Real politics does not exist without the masses in motion, and yet not all motion of the masses is real politics. Masses are indeed in motion around the two candidates put forward by the two-party system, but the fact that there are, attendantly, two bodies of masses set against each other, and without an eye toward a universal movement for emancipation means that we are not yet seeing real politics. Real politics may appear in part thanks to this present motion and what this motion stirs up, but for the moment we have something that is within the status quo, and within the model of electoral politics.
The way the working class is sliced up under Trump’s campaign undermines the universalist “historical mission” of the working class. Indeed, the workings of capitalism have continually disrupted this teleology, which may not have been on such a solid basis as Marx thought it was to begin with, in the nineteenth century. There is no conspiracy needed to divide up the working class, the unconscious workings of capital are sufficient for this task, even if the process does indeed call forth conspirators who scheme and plot. Historically, though, it could be said that the Democratic Party and its leaders has played this role just as much as the Republican Party, from the former’s being the main bastion of slavery to the “New Democrats” of Bill Clinton and the Democratic Leadership Council. These are complex issues that need a more extended analysis, though the issues around Marx and teleology are much more significant when it comes to something that actually matters, than the machinations of the Democratic Party. In other words, we need to be working on a real alternative to our existing society, instead of these false alternatives represented by Trump and Clinton.
And yet, having said this, there are cracks opening up here that will have some significance for some time. Without Trump’s candidacy, would the words “working class”–even if quite often preceded by the word “white”–be used in the mainstream media at all? This is really the first time since the “happy consensus” of the post-WWII period, or even before, that these words have been uttered regularly in “public discourse.”
Can anyone doubt that the Democratic Party can’t wait to put this all back in the closet, where it belongs? The great majority of military personnel come from the working class of all colors (which, ironically, is also where working-class people can recognize better the many colors of their class), and most HRC supporters, perhaps especially academic liberals and “progressives,” find them a distasteful group to have anything at all to do with. This goes for the working class in general, in its many colors, it’s just not a pleasant scene for these people.
I can’t help thinking back to a scene in the mid-1980s, when a lot of the theory that underpins present-day identity politics was at a high tide. I heard a talk by a well-known feminist literary critic, a top professor at Princeton. I like feminist literary criticism and have studied a good deal of it, that isn’t the issue here–in a way, what’s more the issue is that this was a Princeton professor. She was talking about how educational institutions were under attack, so, during the discussion period, I challenged her to take on the mind-destroying crap of Ronald Reagan, such as his having said that trees put out more radiation than nuclear power plants. She balked on this point–and perhaps she had good reasons for doing this (a friend of mine who had gone on to Princeton for graduate school in religious studies told me at the time that graduate student instructors were explicitly told to not talk about Wall St. financiers in their classes, as many of them had children at Princeton and many of them were benefactors of the university)–but, in her talk, she had made time to get in a number of digs at Roseanne Barr and her very popular sitcom of the time. The implication was that it was this reasonably accurate portrayal of life and struggle in the working class that was bringing down the overall level of culture and literacy. Thinking about this now, I see that this professor modeled the perfect HRC supporter.
No,what is much more pleasant–and not that it is unpleasant, and I don’t mean to pretend that I’m not part of the academic class–is to experience the smorgasbord of “difference” in the seminar room, the academic cocktail or dinner party, the academic conference, and the like. But leave the working class out of it, for heaven’s sake–other than as invisible servants to set the table, bring the dinner, wash the dishes, and quietly ride their beater-bikes back to their side of town at two in the morning.
Most of the people doing the latter, by the way, are Mexicans. It turns out that Mexican restaurant workers, mostly working in the kitchens and not the dining space, mostly male, put more miles on bicycles than any other group. These are the people who Donald Trump wants to put on the other side of a wall, which is indeed deplorable. But it is also the case that this wall will never be built, in part because middle-class urbanites, most of them Hillary supporters, need these people in order to run the parts of the urban service economy that provides for a “fun” life for them–and also what could be called “fun difference, American-style.”
(We might take a lesson here from the pro-Hillary campaign ads that use recordings of Trump saying awful things about contestants in beauty contests, including even the Miss Universe contest. It’s pretty amazing how much Trump will double down on his general loutishness. On the other hand, can one really get all in a huff about what is said about contestants in the Miss Universe contest without opening up a discussion about why these contests exist in the first place? We wouldn’t have heard about this if Trump hadn’t said some very ugly things, and I have no doubt that these things reflect accurately how Trump thinks about women, but why wouldn’t such things be part of the “normal” discourse predicated on the idea that women should mainly be judged on their looks and on sexist norms of “attractiveness” in the first place?)
Trump is also distasteful to these Princeton types (e.g., Sean Wilentz, and bearing in mind important exceptions such as Cornell West). Well, sure, Trump is distasteful. Indeed, he’s beyond distasteful, in a way that goes far beyond the proposed establishment punishment of not being elected president. That’s true of the rest of the ruling class, though, and what is “distasteful” to many of them, including the financial class that the Clintons, including Chelsea, are now deeply ensconced in, is that Trump is speaking out of school. And Trump is riling up the people who are not part of the “fun, American-style difference” that “the better class of people” (as my parents, both from the working class, used to put it) enjoy.
The “white working class”–e.g., the rabble, the “rednecks”–a term used in an entirely pejorative way by HRC supporters, and we have to learn that it is indeed a pejorative term–have been riled up in a “positive” way by Trump, while the constituencies of “fun difference”–that is, identity politics–are riled up negatively, and it is pretty much the other way around on the HRC side. This is all to the good, in terms of cracks in the established order–this is the best one can hope for within the present situation, if we’re looking toward a true alternative, one that is not trapped in the evil logics, of lesser-evils or otherwise, of this evil system. The door has been opened a little for pointing, not yet to the truth of the new things that are needed in the world (or the new world that is needed), rather at least to the complete falsehood that is the existing social system. This work of exposure and opening cannot be carried out while also participating in this system and supporting the leading, designated political representative of this system. “Working for Hillary Clinton before working against her” is an illusion, a bad joke.
To return to what I called a moment ago an “ethical-epistemological failure” with regard to global imperialist social relations, the point concerns not only the unwillingness to get into the thick of how this system works, but also the willingness to recognize the victims of imperialism also in their diversity–as women, as people of color, as people of various sexualities, and most of all working people who are diverse in every way. Just to put a fine point on it, let’s call this “the Berta Caceres question.”
My comments about “fun difference” and the like could be taken as snarky and dismissive. I could respond that having elite graduate students from elite universities tell working people in the midwest to “check their privilege” is more than a little annoying. The midwest–“flyover country”: one feels that this expression has taken on added significance during this election season. The identity-politics constituencies are largely flying over (condescendingly, to the extent that they condescend to notice at all) and flying quickly past the working class.
I’m sure it’s very clear that I don’t follow Marxist orthodoxy in very much. I don’t follow the orthodoxy on how class is defined. I think there is a point to talk about the “real proletarians,” those who are not on any or much of any kind of ladder to “advancement,” those whose stake in the system is at most ideological or psychological, but not material. I think there is a point to talking about those who are the most marginalized by the existing social formation, and this includes many who are marginalized in ways that aren’t necessarily captured by the term “class system,” and instead are captured well by some of the terms of identity politics. And I think there is a point to talking about “working people” in a very broad way, in a way that would also include many people who are presently grouped in sociological language with the “middle class.”
(There is every reason to think that the “middle class” of so much establishment lore is really something that only existed for a relatively short period, more or less from about 1955 to 1975 or thereabouts. And this normative “middle class” almost certainly maps on to the establishment lore about the “traditional family,” the “Leave it to Beaver” family.)
For all the collectivities just named, however, I also think there is the possibility–and, really much more, the necessity–of a universalism: the universalism of all those who do not count, which is most people. Of all those who do not count, some are a little closer to zero than others; some are “less than zero.”
Here is my one nod to “orthodoxy,” however: I persist in believing not only in “class difference,” but also that the working class is a “different class,” and even that class itself is a different kind of category than other categories of social collectivity.
Many of the root conceptions and much of the theoretical work (in social theory, philosophy, literary theory, psychology, and beyond) that has gone into the making of identity politics is far from deficient. A significant part of it is completely right, at least when it shows the many nefarious ways in which people have been marginalized in our existing social system.
The work that has demonstrated this marginalization is a catalogue of grave injustices. And just to be clear, these are not small injustices, these are injustices that render people wretched, miserable, unable to go on. And, again, much of this is not captured well by idea of the “class system.”
Any universality that is going to speak to these injustices will of course have to be a critical universalism, a universalism that takes full account of the warped, exclusionary ways in which terms such as “universal” and “humanity” (and even “we,” “us,” “everyone,” “people,” etc.) have been used in the past. On the other side, we need to go beyond the language of “inclusion,” which assumes some “norm” of humanity that should “open up,” “spread out,” and so on. Everyone belongs. We’ll see what this means as we go from talking about “gay marriage” to just “marriage,” or perhaps to just “partnership.”
Again to put a finer point on things, the idea that anyone should be treated as a lesser human or less-than-human because they are black or brown or any color whatsoever, because they are a woman or any other non-binarily-understood gender, or because of whatever sexuality they are or practice, or for their religion or lack thereof, or because they are fat or thin, or many other things that have nothing to do with the basic humanity of a person, is completely reprehensible and can no longer be tolerated. Revolutions of the past have come up short on many of these issues; the revolution of the future will have to do much better.
What then is the problem with identity politics, as far as it goes? Again, there is nothing wrong with much of what goes into identity politics, in theory and practice, and much right about it. So, why not take identity politics as far as it goes? Or, with a slightly different spin, why would it not be sufficient for all practical purposes to form alliances between the constituencies of identity politics and the constituencies of all class categories that find themselves in a place of fundamental precariousness in our society? For sure, this wouldn’t be the worst thing, though we would to think about the realities of fundamental precariousness, a category that describes many who are drawn toward identity politics, too. Such a practical alliance would relieve us of the possible dangers of yet another totalizing, universalistic concept. (Badiou recognizes and analyzes these dangers in his short book, Ethics: An essay on the understanding of evil.) Here the point would be that no so-called “political party” within the established system, and certainly not within the “two-party system,” has even the most remote chance, much less the intention, of dealing with fundamental human precariousness, in anyone’s class or identity or what-have-you.
The other term here that I want to interrogate is “constituency.” I realize that this is a term that I have introduced into the discussion, but it seems clear enough that it is under this or a similar term, such as “interest group,” that the Democratic Party, and the supporters of Hillary Clinton in particular, have exerted a pull toward those who advocate identity politics. Simply consider the high-horse many of these advocates get on when they condemn and hurl insults at those of us morons who don’t support Hillary: “You must not be–gay, a woman, black, a trans person, etc., or else you’d see why Hillary must be supported.” In other words, all we can do is to think about what affects “me,” or some collection of “me’s,”
Identity politics trivializes itself with this sort of thing, and especially in its model of what “you must be” if you don’t fall in line with the liberal line, namely, the “cis-male.” Leave aside that there are many women, gay people, black people, etc., who do not support Hillary, though this is a highly-significant fact that somehow the HRC supporters fly right over. The Berta Caceres question comes back here again. Beyond this, though, the kind of identity politics I’m talking about here (and I will certainly allow that there are better trends out there, that are perhaps not being heard from as much as they should be), is one that makes the “cis-male” public enemy number one. For those who are not part of this discourse or around it very much, the “cis-male” is a male who is, shall we say, representing maleness in a conventionally masculine way. The cis-male is in some sense, just the “ordinary guy,” but I suppose the model of the cis-male is something like the “bro-dude.” Rather that go on at length with this question, let me just say that, yes, this kind of guy is annoying, sometimes much worse than annoying; one hopes that our society will get further and further away from this model of the “ideal male.”
However, is the rejection of this “ideal” a good basis on which to found an emancipatory politics? At the other end of things, is the person who experiments with going beyond gender binaries a good basis? Certainly, it’s a better basis, just as experimentation in any field has much to teach us–e.g., we might think about the meaning of an experiment in music and an experiment in politics. But we still have to think about the differences between music and politics, and I think that, in light of such differences, we see that the basis of politics is fundamentally different.
This approach, this line is indeed “liberal,” in the sense that, supposedly, all we can do is think about “interests,” even simply “individual interests.” (Think about John Stuart Mill and utility here.) But, guess what? –white working class people have interests too. Just dismissing them as a bunch of racist rednecks not only doesn’t get to some very significant truths about our society, it also doesn’t even work as an argument about the basic claim. Every individual has interests–indeed, to take the flip-side of a controversial claim that Badiou makes–individual animals of whatever species (of the sort where it is possible to speak of an “individual) have interests, and generally pursue them–but even grouping these interests according to their differences, into what I am calling a “constituency,” is not about politics, it is only about power.
Another root of identity politics in addition to the discussions many in intellectual life had regarding Foucault, Derrida, Irigaray, Kristeva, Cixous, etc.–and I was certainly one of them, and I don’t regret it a bit–was the earlier conversation about “intersectionality.” The entry of many into this question, and I am in this group as well, is the work of bell hooks, in particular her 1981 book, Ain’t I a Woman?, and her 1984 book, Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center. What is very, very significant here is that hooks (and others taking up the term intersectionality in that period) was very explicit on the point that the intersection is one of gender, race, and class, and hooks was very explicit on the point that fundamental progress on any of these fronts ultimately means getting beyond capitalism.
More recently, there are many discussions of intersectionality that don’t even mention class as a question, sometimes even framing the question as simply that of race and gender, or sometimes filling out the three-part diagram with sexuality.
Capitalism also drops out, or is only given the merest lip-service. Obviously there’s little point to bringing up capitalism in the context of discussing a Hillary Clinton presidency–unless, that is, one has gone over to the other side, of thinking that capitalism represents a liberatory path for women, people of color, gay people, etc.
To cut to the chase, Is identity politics a form of anti-politics? Even with what I have said just now (which has to serve as only the slightest prelude to a much longer discussion we have to have), I am not ready to make this claim–yet. At the least, though, it can be said that at least a certain kind of identity politics has made an alliance with a pro-capitalist, pro-imperialist, pro-American exclusionism, figure and organization, a powerful bastion of anti-politics. That Hillary Clinton is an intelligent, competent, experience “politician” in the practice of this anti-politics, and the other things I just mentioned, doesn’t make this alliance any better; arguably it makes things worse. Who knows what will happen in the next three days, but most likely the world will be paying the price for this ill-conceived alliance and this travesty of politics in the near future.
If you’re in the Chicago area, please come over to DePaul University in Lincoln Park for “Transformations: Why you shouldn’t vote tomorrow.” 7pm, DePaul Student Center, Rm. 120.
Bill Martin is a professor of philosophy at DePaul University in Chicago; at present he is also Distinguished Visiting Professor of Philosophy at Huaqiao University in Xiamen, PRC. His most recent book is Ethical Marxism: The Categorical Imperative of Liberation. Now he is at work on a large project of synthesis, bringing together elements of Buddhism, Maoism, and French Marxism (especially the ideas of Alain Badiou). He is also a musician, and recently released three albums of experimental music featuring the bass guitar, Gravitas: Solo and Trio (Avant-Bass 1), Terre de Bas (Avant-Bass 2), and Raga Chaturanga: works for bass guitar, percussion, and drones (Avant-Bass 3).