Forming Left Populism!

círculo-Tudela

 

In 1979 French philosopher Jean-François Lyotard inaugurated the postmodern age with his publication The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. He argued that the ‘loss of meaning in postmodernity boils down to mourning the fact that knowledge is no longer principally narrative.’[1]. Thus, technology and science had reached a point of functionality and efficiency that allowed it to abandon metanarratives of knowledge constructed within the ontologies of the humanities[2]. This vision of postmodernity posited in post-narrative knowledge of pure data and technology has only partly come to fruition. In a similar fashion to the modern age, our time has seen narratives firmly re-establish themselves into public discourse. The re-emergence of grand narratives – primarily nationalist or religious – has heralded a new philosophical paradigm, a hybridity of philosophical, political and ideological tendencies that oscillate between the modern and postmodern. This paper will argue that the recent emergence of the “Metamodern” as an open source ontology best describes the contemporary philosophical and political paradigm shift. Metamodernism’s engagement with the ‘resurgence of sincerity, hope, romanticism, affect, and the potential for grand narratives and universal truths’[3] present an opening for the re-assertion of a new metamodern politics, a hybridity of modernist political thought with postmodern scepticism. The metamodern shall be the ontology from which a new epistemology of neo-Gramscianism shall develop. The re-evaluation of Neo-Gramscian ideas of hegemony is structured around Marxist and critical theory’s emancipatory political narratives, coupled with the postmodern tools of deconstruction and discourse theory, a Neo-hegemonic theory shall be outlined for the metamodern era.

 

Metamodernism and Neo-Gramscianism

 

Before tackling metamodern politics and its relevance to neo-Gramscianism it is worth briefly outlining the philosophical contours of metamodernism. Rather then thinking of metamodernism as a closed knowledge system, cultural theorist Timotheus Vermuelen describes it as

 

‘Not so much a philosophy – which implies a closed ontology – as it is an attempt at a vernacular, or as you say, a sort of open source document, that might contextualise and explain what is going on around us’[4]

 

Thus, metamodernism lends itself to be augmented into alternative International Relations Theory acting as the environment for which the epistemology of theory can be built upon. Metamodernism’s starting point is that the ‘the postmodern years of plenty, pastiche, and parataxis are over.’[5]. That is not to say that all postmodern tendencies are obsolete but that these tendencies have formed a new meaning and direction[6]. The global formation of this new meaning and direction has been facilitated by financial crisis, geo-political instability and climatological uncertainties, on a national level by the failure of the “third way”, the polarization of localities, ethnicities and classes that ‘has required a restructuration of the political discourse.’[7]. Postmodern skepticism has lost its singular dominance and been profoundly shaken by the neo-liberal financial failures and the threat of climate catastrophe. This has infused doubt, inspired reflection, and incited ‘a move forward out of the postmodern and into the metamodern’[8].

Metamodernism oscillates between modernism and postmodernism, It swings

 

‘…between hope and melancholy, between naivety and knowingness, empathy and apathy, unity and plurality, totality and fragmentation, purity and ambiguity.’[9]

 

Such oscillation presents a unique space for critical theory to explore and act as a tool for political and social analysis. Metamodernism’s is informed by modern naivety and postmodern skepticism[10], presenting a unique opportunity to synthesise critical IRT with poststructualism.

Building upon Fredric Jameson’s 1991 assertion that the postmodern remains the authentic space for which all radical politics may develop[11], this study claims that the metamodern represents this space under the contemporary political, ideological and philosophical constellation. Thus, it is only through oscillating between the modern and postmodern that meaningful political counter-hegemony may be produced.

 

Metamodernism and Neo-Gramscianism

 

Both metamodernism and neo-Gramscianism look beyond the realm of possibility to create the impossible. That is not to say that both metamodernism and neo-Gramscianism are utopian projects, but that they seek to disrupt “the order of things” as they are by postulating a new order. For instance, ‘metamodern discourse consciously commits itself to an impossible possibility.’[12]. Similarly, critical theorists and post-Marxist’s Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe’s idea of the impossibility of society[13] mirrors the metamodernist sentiment of impossible possibility. Laclau and Mouffe argue that there will never be a totality of society as a homogenous group as class and identity are not structured through essentialism but through discourse. Moreover, singular hegemonic discourse can never be fully established as ‘it is always in conflict with other discourses that define reality differently and set out the goals for social action.’[14] Despite the impossibility of establishing a singular hegemonic discourse, they remain committed to building a counter hegemonic discourse, something they have acknowledged that in totality remains impossible. Thus, the aim is not to establish a totality of discourse but as metamodernism makes clear, through the pursuit of impossibility that new political horizons are revealed[15].

The grandfather of hegemony, Antonio Gramasci, and the father of Neo-Gramscianism, Robert Cox offer a path into the emancipatory and non-essentialist facets of hegemonic theory. Although Gramsci broke with orthodox Marxism through developing ‘a new arsenal of concepts’[16], the fluidity of Gramsci’s conception of hegemony is stifled by certain essentialist underpinnings. Most problematic is Gramsci conception of hegemony as corresponding to a fundamental economic class[17]. This is to reaffirm determination of class through a fixed and homogenous economic space producing more or less fixed and homogenous classes.[18]. Cox seeks to overcome economic determinism by emphasising not only the ideational forces of power but also the non-problem solving aspect of neo-Gramscianism. Cox asserted that

 

‘Theory is always for someone and for some purpose. All theories have a perspective. Perspective derive from a position in time and space, specifically social and political time and space.’ [19]

 

His rejection of positivist historicism presents a critical dimension that postmodernists have inherited as skepticism. Moreover, Cox’s theory retains an emancipatory aim of changing the normative structures of society, idealism that germinated from modern Marxist philosophy. This blend between skepticism, critical thinking and idealism is ripe for augmentation into a metamodern environment. Although poststructuralists – the archetype postmodern scholar – remain uneasy about any goals of emancipation[20], both neo-Gramcianists and the poststructuralists are post-positivist and believe that ‘there is no point outside the world from which the world can be observed’[21]. Neo-Gramscianists believe that ‘critical theory is historical and deals with a changing reality’[22], this is not strictly structural and allows for the development of subjectivity of actors within certain contours of material reality, ‘historical materialism was to be understood as the relationship between mentalities and material conditions of existence’[23]. This development of a post-positivist approach within Marxist thought represents the two oscillations in the metamodern landscape, modern idealism rooted in Marxist philosophy and postmodern skepticism that seeks to explain not just what happened, but why and how. However, neo-Gramscianists like Cox still rely on the contours of the material, or in Marxist terminology, a separation between the base and superstructure. Within the newly defined metamodern landscape, the requirement is to push beyond all forms of essentialism and build a grand narrative upon postmodern deconstruction theory.

 

Post-positivist hegemony

 

Building upon Derrida’s assertion that ‘there is nothing outside the text’[24], Laclau and Mouffe have synthesized discourse analysis with Gramsci’s idea of hegemony. In contrast to Gramsci’s division of the economic base to the ideological superstructure, Laclau and Mouffe have dissolved this division entirely. Within this framework there exists no objective reality or essentialist class, instead reality ‘depends on the structuring of the discursive field.’[25]. Therefore, ‘all social phenomena can be analysed using discourse analytical tools’[26]. Because there is no objective reality, searching for objective truth becomes redundant, directing discourse theory’s purpose as uncovering what Foucault called ‘regimes of truth’[27] as well as creating a new discursive hegemony.

Laclau views his conception of hegemony and Derrida’s concept of deconstruction ‘as two sides of a single operation’[28]. This merge between postmodernism/poststructural ontology and modernism/neo-Gramscianism demonstrates the malleability of neo-Gramscianism and deconstructionism as a tool for analysis and as a strategy of hegemony. Deconstruction shows that elements could combine differently, while the hegemonic intervention naturalizes a particular articulation[29]. Hegemony remains similar to discourse ‘because both terms denote a fixation of elements in moments. But the hegemonic intervention achieves this fixation across discourses that collide antagonistically.’[30]

If discourse is central to new post-positivist counter-hegemony in a metamodern landscape, then the articulation of antagonisms within the discursive battlefield is vital. Antagonism remains at the centre of Laclau and Mouffe’s political and theoretical approach. They assert that ‘there cannot be a radical politics without the definition of an adversary.’[31] Within the new establishment of hegemony, antagonism – in a discursive sense – should be reaffirmed as the authentic tool for altering social norms and epistemic underpinnings of the current order. ‘Without conflict and division, a pluralist democratic politics would be impossible.’[32] Laclau and Mouffe criticise neo-liberal political discourse for erasing social antagonisms and affirming that ‘political problems have become merely technical and democracy should be envisioned as a dialogue.[33]. Radical democracy can never be established

‘… within a neutral terrain, whose topology would not be affected’[34], but a new counter-hegemony insists on ‘…a profound transformation of the existing relations of power’[35].

But how can this post-positivist hegemony be achieved and by what means? Should it be a national or international objective? Neo-Gramscianists assert that state power rests on the underlying configuration of social forces[36]. Thus, the transformation for a counter-hegemonic bloc must re-configure the social forces underpinning states and then universalised. Neo-Gramscianists identify three main areas of hegemony as social relations of production, forms of state, and world orders. Cox’s original concept of counter-hegemony envisioned ‘the task of changing world order…with the long, laborious effort to build new historical blocs within national boundaries.’[37]. For Cox, this was necessary because of the globalized nature of society and capital. He argued that the formation of a common will depended on the transcendence of divisions of ethnicity, religion, gender and geography cutting across the three-level social hierarchy being created by globalisation.[38]. These identities that persist into our metamodern age are rooted in idealism and act as concrete axioms for people to organize their existence around. In order to transcend these identities a larger narrative of union must be evoked to form the common will and build a counter-hegemony. Changing the configuration of social forces requires an epistemological challenge to the current order. French philosopher Jacques Rancière whose concepts of the police and politics can help bridge the gap between theory and praxis to configure the social forces in the metamodern topography.

 

Politics and the police

 

Jacques Rancière’s political philosophy is rooted in radical democracy, and the struggle of the voiceless. His concept of politics and the police outline the framework in which he identifies the structure of power and democracy in contemporary society. For Rancière ‘politics is specifically opposed to the police’[39] operating as dialectical forces of opposition. Rancière’s politics is rooted in an etymological origin of the polis, meaning the people, including ‘the part of those who have no part.’[40]. Moreover, politics cannot be defined through narrow conceptions of political systems, as Rancière makes clear that identifying ‘politics with the exercise of and struggle to possess power is to do away with politics’[41] because power is based around exclusion. Therefore, ‘Politics ought to be defined on its own terms, as a mode of acting put into practice by a specific kind of subject and deriving from a particular form of reason.’[42]. For Rancière, politics starts with radical democracy and the inclusion of the excluded.

Whereas ‘political actors turn streets into stages, the police re-establish the smooth circulation of traffic.’[43]. The police are therefore understood in a metaphorical sense and not simply tools of repression or control but as ‘partitioning the sensible.’[44]. The partitioning or distribution of the sensible is an order that attempts to maintain the perceptual and conceptual consensus of “common sense” and to ‘point out the obviousness of what there is, or rather, of what there isn’t.’[45] It can be defined through the metaphor of a police officer asking onlookers to ‘Move along! There is nothing to see here!’[46].

It is worth pondering the similarities between Rancière and Laclau in order to synthesis post-positivist hegemony with the epistemic analysis of Rancière. The first is Rancière’s notion of “a class that is not a class” and Laclau’s concept of “emptiness.’[47]. This is similar to Gramsci’s idea of the subaltern, a voiceless mass that remain excluded from the proclivities of power. The second similarity is Laclau and Mouffe’s concept of hegemony with Rancière’s “part that functions as a whole”[48]. For both scholars a new hegemony or “whole” must rely on the voiceless identifying themselves with the polis as the community of the whole[49]. This is in contrast to the bureaucratised structures of the formal political parties and technocratic institutions. Gramsci observed in The Modern Prince that ‘The bureaucracy is the most dangerously habitual and conservative force; if it ends up by constituting a solid body, standing by itself and feeling independent from the masses’[50]. Gramsci makes clear the function of a political body, to move beyond its technical function and towards the embodiment of a collective political will. Laclau and Mouffe build upon this point stating that ‘politics…does not consist in simply registering already existing interests, but plays a crucial role in shaping political subjects.’[51]. With Rancière’s concept of politics and the police identified as the two antagonist forces, and Laclau and Mouffe’s post-positivist discursive strategy emphasising the centrality of discourse, how can they influence the hegemonic police order?

 

Dissensus and challenging hegemony

 

Hegemony is defined as the ‘expression of broadly based consent manifested in the acceptance of ideas and supported by material resources and institutions’.[52]. Hegemony of ideas can be defined in Rancièrian terms as the perceptual and epistemological consensus of “common sense” and the distribution of the sensible. Rancière introduces the concept of “dissensus” as a means of challenging the police order. Dissensus seeks to break the consensus by not only challenging the material social structure of hierarchy, but also deeper perceptual and epistemic underpinnings. Dissensus starts by ‘framing of a we, a subject of collective demonstration whose emergence is the element that disrupts the distribution of social parts.’[53]. It is through dissensus that the police order’s hegemonic ideational base is undermined, by the polis ‘turning streets into stages.’[54], and building a counter hegemonic epistemic and perceptual order.

Strategies for dissensus must take into consideration the metamodern landscape. Only through the discursive unity of the polis by antagonism can a counter-hegemony succeed. Discursive unity depends on a narrative, with emphasis on what Laclau and Mouffe termed floating signifiers. Floating signifiers are ‘the signs that different discourse struggles to invest with meaning…[they] belong to an ongoing struggle between different discourses to fix the meaning of important signs.’[55]. In contrast to nodal points of discourse they remain unfixed. In order to create a new counter-hegemony the floating signifiers must be contested in order to challenge the epistemology of the police order. This can be considered a strategy of dissensus.

Far from a theoretical abstract, the ideas of Laclau and Mouffe have already been discursively implemented through political dissensus. Laclau has been called the intellectual figurehead of the Syriza and Podemos political movements[56]. Íñigo Errejón, chief political strategist for Podemos, gained his PhD researching Bolivian populism; he claimed that ‘the work of Ernesto Laclau (… Chantal Mouffe) and their neo-Gramscian school of thought played a central theoretical role in my thesis.’[57]. And that Laclau’s work has ‘sown seeds enriching the intellectual and political wealth…expanded [the] horizon of the possible and showed us that politics can mean creation, tension and opening.’[58]. The leader of Podemos, Pablo Iglesias commented that the most important thing he learnt from Gramsci, Laclau and Mouffe was ‘not that activists should have a single, homogenous identity, but that they should be united as to the identity of their enemy…. “The enemy must have a face.”[59]. Podemos have created a new discursive antagonism, of la gente (the people) vs. la casta (the establishment)[60]. This antagonism, Iglesias claims, ‘has changed the political language. Now everyone speaks of la casta; everyone speaks of change.’[61].

The metamodern landscape presents an opportunity for the birth of hybrid theories. The orthodox materialism of Marxism is irrelevant to the postmodern mind, and the extreme poststructural opposition to grand theory as ‘as a social practice among other social practices’[62] cannot fulfill the hunger for meaning and change within the polis. Gramsci was proclaimed dead by postmodernists who saw the emergence of new social movements seeking radical change without wanting to influence state power. This was supposed evidence for the death of Gramsci[63]. This proclamation seems premature with the advance of Podemos in Spain and Syriza taking power in Greece, who successfully have managed to change the political discourse through antagonistic dissensus.

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

 

 

 

Turner, L, ‘Metamodernism: A Brief Introduction’ Notes on Metamodernism, http://www.metamodernism.com/2015/01/12/metamodernism-a-brief-introduction/ [Accessed 12/05/2016].

 

Velmeulen, T van den Akker, R, ‘Notes on Metamodernism’, Journal of Aesthetics and Culture, Vol. 2. (2010) pp. 1- 14.

 

Potter, C, ‘Timotheus Vermeulen Talks to Cher Potter’, Tank Magazine, (2012) http://tankmagazine.com/issue-55/talk/timotheus-vermeulen

 

Lyotard, J, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, trans. Bennigton, G, Massumi, B, (2nd edition, Manchester, 1984)

 

James, F, Postmodern, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, http://xroads.virginia.edu/~drbr/jameson/jameson.html [Accessed 12/05/2016].

 

Laclau, E, Mouffe, C, Hegemony and Socialist strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics, (2nd edition, London 2001).

 

Jurgensen, M, Phillips, L, Marianne, W, Discourse Analysis As Theory and Method, (London 2004)

 

Cox, R, ‘Social Force, State and World Order: Beyond International Relations Theory’, Journals of International Studies, Vol. 10. No. 2. pp. 126 – 155.

  1. 128.

 

Moolakkatu, J, ‘Robert W. Cox and Critical Theory of International Relations’, International Studies, Vol. 46. No. 4. pp. 439 – 456.

 

Edkins, J, ‘Poststructualism’, International Relations Theory for the Twenty-First-Century: An Introduction, ed. Griffiths, M, (New York 2007).

 

Cox, R, Sinclair, T, Approaches to World Order, (Toronto 1996).

 

J, Derrida, Of Grammatology, trans. Spivak, G, (1997 Baltimore)

 

Foucault, M, Discipline and Punish, trans. Sheridan, A, (London 1975)

 

Laclau, E, Emancipation(s), (London 1996).

 

Bieler, A, Morton, A, ‘Theoretical and Methodological Challenges of Neo-Gramscian Perspectives in International Political Economy’, International Gramsci Society Online Article, http://www.internationalgramscisociety.org/resources/online_articles/articles/bieler_morton.shtml [Accessed 16/05/2016].

 

Cox, R, ‘Gramsci, Hegemony and International Relations: an Essay in Method’, Millennium journal of International Studies, Vol. 12. No. 2. (1983) pp. 162 – 175.

 

Cox, R, Schenchter, M, The Political Economy of a Plural World: Critical Reflections on Power, Morals and Civilization, (London 2002).

 

Gramsci, A, The Modern prince and other Writings (New York 1972)

 

Rancière, J, ‘Ten Theses on Politics’, Theory and Event, Vol. 5, No. 3. (2001) pp. 1 – 16.

 

Hallwood, P, ‘Staging Equality’, eds. Rockhill, C, Watts, P, Jacques Rancière: History, Politics, Aesthetics, (Durham 2009)

 

E, Laclau On Populist Reasoning, (London 2005).

 

Isin, E, Citizens without Frontiers, (London 2012).

 

  1. Bieler & A. Morton, ‘A Critical Theory Route to Hegemony, World Order and Historical Change: Neo-Gramscian Perspectives in International Relations’, Capital & Class, Vol. 82, (2004).

 

J, Rancière, Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics, trans. Corcoran, S, (London 2010).

 

Hancox, D, ‘Why Enersto Laclau is the Intellectual Figurehead to Syriza and Podemos’ The Guardian, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/feb/09/ernesto-laclau-intellectual-figurehead-syriza-podemos [Accessed 18/05/2016].

 

Petitjean, C, Errejón, I, ‘Ernesto Laclau, Theorist of Hegemony’, Verso, http://www.versobooks.com/blogs/1578-ernesto-laclau-theorist-of-hegemony [Accessed 17/05/2016].

 

Williams, Z, ‘Podemos Leader Pablo Iglesias on Why He’s Like Jeremy Corbyn’, The Guardian, http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/dec/15/podemos-pablo-iglesias-jeremy-corbyn-spain-election-radicalism-labour [Accessed 18/05/2016].

 

Day, R, Gramsci is Dead: Anarchist Currents in the Newest Social Movements, (London 2005)

 

[1] Lyotard, J, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, trans. Bennigton, G, Massumi, B, (2nd edition, Manchester 1984) p. 26.

[2] Mack, M, Philosophy and Literature in Times of Crisis, p.32.

[3] Turner, L, ‘Metamodernism: A Brief Introduction’ Notes on Metamodernism, http://www.metamodernism.com/2015/01/12/metamodernism-a-brief-introduction/ [Accessed 12/05/2016].[Accessed 12/05/2016].

[4]Potter, C, ‘Timotheus Vermeulen Talks to Cher Potter’, Tank Magazine, (2012) http://tankmagazine.com/issue-55/talk/timotheus-vermeulen

[5] Velmeulen, T van den Akker, R, ‘Notes on Metamodernism’, Journal of Aesthetics and Culture, Vol. 2. (2010) pp. 1- 14. pp. 2.

[6] Ibid. pp. 4.

[7] Ibid. pp. 5.

[8] Velmeulen, T van den Akker, R, ‘Notes on Metamodernism’, Journal of Aesthetics and Culture, pp. 5.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] James, F, Postmodern, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, http://xroads.virginia.edu/~drbr/jameson/jameson.html [Accessed 12/05/2016].

[12]Velmeulen, T van den Akker, R, ‘Notes on Metamodernism’, Journal of Aesthetics and Culture, pp. 5.

[13] Laclau, E, Mouffe, C, Hegemony and Socialist strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics, (2nd edition, London 2001) p.114.

[14] Jurgensen, M, Phillips, L, Marianne, W, Discourse Analysis As Theory and Method, (London 2004) p 47.

[15] Velmeulen, T van den Akker, R, ‘Notes on Metamodernism’, Journal of Aesthetics and Culture, Vol. 2. (2010) pp. 1- 14. pp. 5.

[16] Laclau, E, Mouffe, C, Hegemony and Socialist strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics, p. ix.

[17] Ibid. p. 69

[18] Ibid.

[19] Cox, R, ‘Social Force, State and World Order: Beyond International Relations Theory’, Journals of International Studies, Vol. 10. No. 2. pp. 126 – 155.

  1. 128.

[20] Moolakkatu, J, ‘Robert W. Cox and Critical Theory of International Relations’, International Studies, Vol. 46. No. 4. pp. 439 – 456. pp. 440.

[21] Edkins, J, ‘Poststructualism’, International Relations Theory for the Twenty-First-Century: An Introduction, ed. Griffiths, M, (New York 2007) p.88

[22] Moolakkatu, J, ‘Robert W. Cox and Critical Theory of International Relations’, International Studies, pp. 444.

[23] Cox, R, Sinclair, T, Approaches to World Order, (Toronto 1996) p. 27.

[24] J, Derrida, Of Grammatology, trans. Spivak, G, (1997 Baltimore) p.159

[25]Laclau, E, Mouffe, C, Hegemony and Socialist strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics, p. 107-8.

[26] Jurgensen, M, Phillips, L, Discourse Analysis As Theory and Method, p.3.

[27] Foucault, M, Discipline and Punish, trans. Sheridan, A, (London 1975) p.30

[28] Laclau, E, Emancipation(s), (London 1996) p. 88.

[29] Jurgensen, M, Phillips, L, ‘Discourse Analysis As Theory and Method: Laclau and Mouffe’s Discourse Theory’, p. 48.

[30] Ibid. p. 48.

[31] Laclau, E, Mouffe, C, Hegemony and Socialist strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics, p. xvii

[32] Ibid. p. xvii

[33] Ibid. p. XV.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid.

[36]Bieler, A, Morton, A, ‘Theoretical and Methodological Challenges of Neo-Gramscian Perspectives in International Political Economy’, International Gramsci Society Online Article, http://www.internationalgramscisociety.org/resources/online_articles/articles/bieler_morton.shtml [Accessed 16/05/2016].

[37] Cox, R, ‘Gramsci, Hegemony and International Relations: an Essay in Method’, Millennium journal of International Studies, Vol. 12. No. 2. (1983) pp. 162 – 175. pp. 174.

[38] Cox, R, Schenchter, M, The Political Economy of a Plural World: Critical Reflections on Power, Morals and Civilization, (London 2002) p.85.

[39]Rancière, J, ‘Ten Theses on Politics’, Theory and Event, Vol. 5, No. 3. (2001) pp. 1 – 16. pp. 8.

[40] Ibid. p. 6.

[41] Ibid. pp. 1.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Ibid. pp. 8.

[45] Ibid. p. 8.

[46] Hallwood, P, ‘Staging Equality’, eds. Rockhill, C, Watts, P, Jacques Rancière: History, Politics, Aesthetics, (Durham 2009) p. 147.

[47] E, Laclau On Populist Reasoning, (London 2005) p. 246.

[48] Ibid, p. 224.

[49] Isin, E, Citizens without Frontiers, (London 2012) p.44.

[50] Gramsci, A, The Modern prince and other Writings (New York 1972) p. 175.

[51] Ibid. p. xvii

[52] A. Bieler & A. Morton, ‘A Critical Theory Route to Hegemony, World Order and Historical Change: Neo-Gramscian Perspectives in International Relations’, Capital & Class, Vol. 82, (2004). p. 87

[53] J, Rancière, Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics, trans. Corcoran, S, (London 2010) p. 141-2

[54] Hallwood, P, ‘Staging Equality’, eds. Rockhill, C, Watts, P, Jacques Rancière: History, Politics, Aesthetics, p. 147.

[55] Ibid. p.28.

[56] Hancox, D, ‘Why Enersto Laclau is the Intellectual Figurehead to Syriza and Podemos’ The Guardian, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/feb/09/ernesto-laclau-intellectual-figurehead-syriza-podemos [Accessed 18/05/2016].

[57] Petitjean, C, Errejón, I, ‘Ernesto Laclau, Theorist of Hegemony’, Verso, http://www.versobooks.com/blogs/1578-ernesto-laclau-theorist-of-hegemony [Accessed 17/05/2016].

[58] Ibid.

[59] Williams, Z, ‘Podemos Leader Pablo Iglesias on Why He’s Like Jeremy Corbyn’, The Guardian, http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/dec/15/podemos-pablo-iglesias-jeremy-corbyn-spain-election-radicalism-labour [Accessed 18/05/2016].

[60]Ibid.

[61] Ibid.

[62] Edkins, J, ‘Poststructualism’, International Relations Theory for the Twenty-First-Century: An Introduction, ed. Griffiths, M, p.89

[63] Day, R, Gramsci is Dead: Anarchist Currents in the Newest Social Movements, (London 2005) p. 8.

Forming Left Populism!

Forgetting September 11?

 

 

‘In times of terror, when everyone is something of a conspirator, everybody will be in a situation where he has to play detective.[1]

 

 

As Walter Benjamin’s quote suggests, in times of terror humans are prone to look for meaning in unfolding chaos. The global proliferation of communication technology and hyper connectivity has immersed contemporary mankind into the cinematography of terror. In this pixelated loop of atrocities and the transportation of violence from there to here, we are compelled to find meaning in overarching narratives explaining such horrors. Building upon Benjamin’s sentiment concerning the construction of truth, Maja Zehfuss’s provocatively titled Forget September 11 attempts to provide a strategy for combating the destructive narratives post 9/11. More broadly, Zehfuss demonstrates a poststructural challenge to orthodox epistemologies by questioning the divisive use of temporality and memory as a means of locating the enemy within a historical narrative. Zehfuss is correct to argue for us to question the dominant narratives constructed in the aftermath of 9/11, however, she touches upon, but does not expand what types of narratives should fill the vacated void. Building upon Zehfuss’ suggestion, I will argue that a plural humanist understanding of 9/11 should replace the void left in the wake of Zehfuss’ dismantlement of the dominant narratives.

It is worth pondering the nature of the attacks and the theoretical frames that are best suited for analysing 9/11. In cultural studies scholars have pondered if the destruction of the WTC also brought about the destruction of postmodernism. The critic Charles Jenkes suggested that the symbolic start of postmodernism began with the demolition of prize-winning architect Minoru Yamasaki’s Pruitt-Igoe housing project, and ended with the destruction of his most famous architectural work, the WTC[2]. If we are to take these two points to mark out the temporality of postmodernism then is it useful to use a postmodernist methodology – poststructualism – to analyse the event that brought it to an end? Viewing 9/11 as a postmodern event is to locate the event as presenting us with ‘no detached point of observation: we were immersed in a network of tragic images of destruction and loss, looped in 24/7 cycles, which induced a state of emergency and trauma at all levels of society.’[3]. Its qualification as a postmodern event derives not from the motives of the attack but from its broadcasting and symbolic imagery, as a spectacle of destruction. Zehfuss’ poststructural approach is based on the Foucauldian assumption that ‘discourse is not confined to written forms or to language in the narrow sense, but extends to all symbolic systems’[4]. Moreover, Zehfuss applies Derrida’s work on politics and memory by building upon the idea that ‘invoking memory always already involves a reversal of time – producing a past in the present.’[5]. Zehfuss is thus posited within a poststructualist scholastic tradition that attempts to understand 9/11 as a truly postmodern event.

Zehfuss builds upon De Derian’s poststructualist approach, particularly his work on the military-industrial media-entertainment network which he describes as ‘networked information and virtual technologies to bring “there” here in near-real time.’[6]. She does not specifically mention Derian’s concept of mimetic war of images, but should be touched upon. In its broadest sense, a mimetic war is a battle of representation and imitation, in which the relationship between who “we” are and who “they” are is played out across a wide spectrum of ‘familiarity and friendliness, indifference and tolerance, estrangement and hostility. It can result in appreciation or denigration, accommodation or separation, assimilation or extermination.’[7]. This mimetic war is clearly seen in Bush’s discourse of ally and foe, ‘either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.’[8] And Bin Laden’s spiritual interpretation of ‘the faithful and the infidels.’[9]. For Zehfuss, it is important to move away from a one-dimensional moral understanding of the attacks, as they have led to an emotional and political climate in which the curtailment of civil liberties was readily accepted through the patriot act[10].

Rather then accept the discourse as a given, poststructualist such as Zehfuss have concluded that the imagery and discourse deployed by Bush has directly played into the hands of Bin Laden through opening up a mimetic communication loop via counter image munitions[11]. Moreover, the discourse is neither neutral nor non-political as it serves a purpose of reproducing knowledge for political purposes and as means to identify the “other”. The utilization of a particular discursive narrative for political ends is problematic as it neither reveals an objective truth, nor by the policy makers own objectives, alleviates violence. What follows from this ‘crude form of othering’[12] is a constellation of problematic binaries that pits the “west” or “infidels” against the “terrorists/barbarians” “faithful”. Zehfuss’ skilfully undermines this superficial construction by arguing that many of the hijackers had lived in the USA and Germany, and are essentially from our midst[13]. Zehfuss alludes to a different type of categorisation that does not construct 9/11 as something exceptional but rather builds into a universal understanding of human suffering[14].

Building upon Zehfuss proposition, a new categorisation of remembrance could serve as a tool for understanding the “other” as well as personalising the events. This new categorisation should resist divisive master narratives that seek hegemonic national unity. It should promote a mosaic of memory as a subjective form of remembrance promoting plurality, drops binaries – Bush’s ‘war against evil’[15] – in favour of a global humanised understanding of violence. Within this new individualised memory, new temporalities and spatialities shall be woven into the fabric of global remembrance.

As Lee Jarvis outlines, the congealment of the 9/11 narrative by the Bush administration as a rupture from “history as normal” into a new era of insecurity and war[16], has hindered the wider debate on the ‘fundamental questions of politics ….our inevitable vulnerability and our responsibility towards others.’ [17]. This line of argumentation follows a larger poststructuralist belief that the politics of power and space, temporality and identity must be debated between multiple political and social hues. Shapiro argues that the nation state presents ‘its people as ‘subjects’ in a signifying process aimed at showing the national life as a continuous heterogeneous process of renewal.’[18]. Thus, 9/11 becomes another instance of a long historic battle for innate “American values”, a battle that has been reproduced throughout time and space. Shapiro’s National Times and Other Times questions different forms of time, space and memory that the state and individuals utilise. He uses the work of Julia Kristeva to highlight the notion of “women’s time” as an example of divergent forms of temporality ‘emerg[ing] from different moments in the history of the feminist movement’[19]. Shapiro concludes his article by arguing the political must involve a continuous recognition of persons whose ways of being-in-time are diverse.’[20]. To apply this idea to remembering 9/11 is to acknowledge that the event was horrific yet not unpredictable, indescribable or unprecedented[21]. In contrast, divergent forms of temporality should be promoted that are ‘receptive to the meaning of our multiple, dispersed, mortally fragmented existences’[22] and acknowledge a global commonality in suffering.

Zehfuss’ article highlights that the West’s search for “elusive security” has undermined what many consider core Western values. To move beyond the singular time and the divisive master narratives enforced by Bush and Bin Laden a new inclusive temporality must be found. This temporality must manifest from a global perspective that takes into account connectivity and similarity rather than difference and security. By taking into account individualised memory within a larger global understanding of suffering we can set humanity on the course of undoing the categorisations that has sought to explain the larger political questions of identity through antagonisms.

 

Footnotes

 

 

Nancy, J.L, The Inoperative Community, (trans. Peter Connor, Lisa Garbus,

Michael Holland and Simona Sawhney, London, 1991).

[1] Benjamin, W, Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism, p. 40.

[2] McHale, B, The Cambridge Introduction to Postmodernism, p. 175.

[3] Der Derian, J, ‘9/11: Before, After and In Between’, http://essays.ssrc.org/sept11/essays/der_derian.htm [Accessed 24/03/16].

[4] Griffiths, M (ed.) International Relations Theory for the Twenty-First-Century, p. 91.

[5] Fagan, M (ed.) Derrida: Negotiating the Legacy, p. 109.

[6] Der Derian, J, Virtuous War: Mapping the Military-industrial Media-Entertainment Network (New York, 2nd ed. 2001) p. 202.

[7] Der Derian, J, Terrorism, Media, Liberation, (New Brunswick 2005). p.328

[8]The White House, Official Press Secretary, ‘Address to a Joint Session of Congress and The American People’, (Washington 2001),

http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2001/09/20010920-8.html [Accessed 26/03/16].

[9]George W. Bush and Osama Bin Laden October Speeches, (October 8, 2001) http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/481921texts.html [Accessed 26/03/16].

[10] Zehfuss, M, ‘Forget September 11’, Third World Quarterly, Vol. 24, No. 3. (2003) pp. 513-528, pp. 518.

[11] Roger, N, Image Warfare in the War on Terror, (London 2013) p. 70

[12] Zehfuss, M, ‘Forget September 11’, pp. 519

[13] Ibid, pp. 519.

[14] Ibid, pp. 520.

[15] Ibid, pp.525

[16] Ibid.

[17] Zehfuss, M, ‘Forget September 11’, pp. 526

[18] Shapiro, M, ‘National Times and Other Times: Re-Thinking Citizenship’, Third Text, Vol. 14, No. 1, pp. 79-98, pp .84

[19] Ibid, pp.89.

[20] Ibid. pp.94.

[21] Javis, L, ‘Times of Terror: Writing Temporality into the War on Terror’, Critical Studies on Terrorism, Vol. 1, No. 2, (2008), 245-262, pp. 246.

[22] Nancy, J.L, The Inoperative Community, (trans. Peter Connor, Lisa Garbus,

Michael Holland and Simona Sawhney, London, 1991) p. xi.

 

Bibliography

 

Benjamin, W, Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism, (London 1973).

 

McHale, B, The Cambridge Introduction to Postmodernism, (Cambridge 2004).

 

Der Derian, J, ‘9/11: Before, After and In Between’, Social Science Research Council, http://essays.ssrc.org/sept11/essays/der_derian.htm

 

Griffiths, M (ed.) International Relations Theory for the Twenty-First-Century (New York 2007).

 

Fagan, M (ed.) Derrida: Negotiating the Legacy, (Edinburgh 2007).

 

 

Zehfuss, M, ‘Forget September 11’, Third World Quarterly, Vol. 24, No. 3. (2003) pp. 513-528.

 

Der Derian, J, Virtuous War: Mapping the Military-industrial Media-Entertainment Network (New York, 2nd ed. 2001).

 

Der Derian, J, Terrorism, Media, Liberation, (New Brunswick 2005).

 

The White House, Official Press Secretary, ‘Address to a Joint Session of Congress and The American People’, (Washington 2001), http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2001/09/20010920-8.html [Accessed 26/03/16].

 

George W. Bush and Osama Bin Laden October Speeches, (October 8, 2001) http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/481921texts.html [Accessed 26/03/16].

 

Roger, N, Image Warfare in the War on Terror, (London 2013).

 

Shapiro, M, ‘National Times and Other Times: Re-Thinking Citizenship’, Third Text, Vol. 14, No. 1, pp. 79-98.

 

Javis, L, ‘Times of Terror: Writing Temporality into the War on Terror’, Critical Studies on Terrorism, Vol. 1, No. 2, (2008), 245-262.

 

Nancy, J.L, The Inoperative Community, (trans. Peter Connor, Lisa Garbus,

Michael Holland and Simona Sawhney, London, 1991).

Forgetting September 11?

A Short Piece on the Importance of Dialogue

If learning is a lifelong endeavour, then dialogue should be its perpetual motor. Functioning like the complex intricacies of a Swiss pocket watch, the perpetual motor should not be powered by a single piston, but a complex exchange mechanism, that, at full throttle and connected to the cylinder of learning, ignites the diffusion of ideas. Dialogue must exist alongside learning, as learning without dialogue is partial, and dialogue without learning is dogmatic.

Through the lens of dialogue and learning, the perpetual motor and the cylinder of life, let us explore the classical idea of insanity and sanity. Why? You may ask. It is through sanity and insanity that we can begin to excavate two divergent functions within dialogue; these are internal and external dialogue. Insanity has at its core, a symptomatic association with schizophrenic dialogue, think A Beautiful Mind. Insanity in our imagination is also present in the internal singular dialogue, monologues and soliloquies, the idea of singular thought and narrowness. It is in the soliloquies of Iago in Shakespeare’s Othello, that the darkest villain in English literature reveals his malicious plans,

‘I have’t! It is engender’d! Hell and night
Must bring this monstrous birth to the world’s light.’

The narrowness of his mind and the singularity of his wickedness allow the reader to learn of Iago’s dark designs against the Moor. This is not quite classical insanity, but there is something of the insane and unreasonable in such dark singularity. Such examples in literature remind us that we should not forget the edge of darkness, brutality and drive that manifest from closed minds with murderous objectives.

Internal dialogue also functions through an enlightened understanding of sanity, the “man of reason” and “rationality”, concepts born from the humanist tradition of the European enlightenment. It is from this strand of ideology, with the help of multiculturalism and the spread of “Eastern” ideas in the post-colonial Occident, that contemporary societies of the Western world have adopted a type of post-modern enlightened Buddhism. What could be more evident of this then the societal obsession with “self-reflection”. Enlightened post-modern dialogue has at its core, an internal mechanism that must appropriate external dialogue, otherwise will risk slipping into fruitless tautologies and self-confirmation.

If dialogue is external and internal, then internal dialogue cannot exist without the external. We can only maintain internal dialogue with interaction and infiltration by the alternative and the “other”. It is through these external dialogues that new ideas and concepts precipitate our mind, and after osmosis we synthesis. It is through these external dialogues that old ideas that have crystalised or congealed, are dissolved and unfrozen. It is the confrontation with new ideas through external dialogue that we can render internal dialogues to reach a dialectical conclusion. Dialectic conversation should never end, but should entail a continuous synthesis of a thesis and antithesis.

Once the kindle of learning is lit, the fire of learning should be kept alight by the pitch of dialogue. Through understanding the mechanism of internal and external dialogue, the conversations we have with others and ourselves, will allow us to continuously synthesis ideas through the dialectic confrontation of thesis and antitheses. Beware of those who advocate the closure of dialogue, for it is only through such methods that we can strive for the new, and reawaken the old and noble.

Quote

The Hague: A defence

Like the majority of visitors to the Netherlands, my conception of a Dutch city was formed during a brief weekend trip to Amsterdam last year. And it was in the old centre of that city where I first encountered the contradictions and symbiosis of Dutch urban planning.

Amsterdam had etched onto my mind the geographical assumptions that all Dutch cities were ringed by vast canal systems, dotted with uniform bourgeois merchant dwellings, small bridges and the occasional aesthetic grandeur of a baroque palaces and burgher mansions. The antique uniformity of the centre is contradicted – or complemented, depending on your inclinations – by modern tourist pleasure houses of glass. Somewhat naïvely, I assumed that other Dutch cities would be designed around similar symmetrical touristic centre and uniform 17th century urban planning.

This assumption was broken when I went to The Hague.

I have often heard The Hague be called an ugly or characterless, defined by its government buildings built in a bland functionalist manner. I disagree. The Hague may lack the aesthetic uniformity of Amsterdam, the quaint charm of Utrecht or Leiden or the avant-gardianism of Rotterdam but in its own and quietly discreet way, The Hague displays its own qualities.

The Hague’s difference lies in its divergent history. Unlike Amsterdam, The Hague was not primarily built on the wealth of trade and commerce but as a seat of administrative power and governmental bureaucracy. Its centre has a spacious grandeur to it, more embassy than tourist trap, Golden Age than coffee shop.

Whereas Amsterdam’s centre is contiguous, The Hague is dissected into districts and areas all with a distinctive feel. Take Laak for instance, only a 10 minute walk from the centre and you enter another city. Its vibrant multiculturalism is a sharp contrast to the officialdom of the centre. Or go west for 15 minutes and you will reach Segbroek, a pleasant leafy district, with distinct suburban houses, wide tree-lined roads and beautified parks.

The Hague is not aesthetically or atmospherically aggressive. There is no central pulse but a fusillade of smaller ‘centres’ that are dispersed throughout semi-gridded suburban sprawl. The Hague achieves dispersion and a sense of space without meekness or parochialism. Eight modernist skyscrapers are ubiquitous throughout most of the city, but it’s the diffusion of a single centre that lends to the skyscrapers failure to encompass an omnipresent position.

Although The Hague may lack a single point of central energy, the fact that its a centre of government power means that there is a certain prestigious energy. This is most evident in the comings and goings of suited men and women, diplomatic vehicles and the grandeur of buildings such as the peace palace and International Criminal Court.

The Hague is unlike any other city I have been to in the Netherlands. Its uniqueness lies in its difference, its energy in its heritage and its aesthetics in diversity and diffusion. Even the cities harshest critiques will respect its particular idiosyncrasy.

The Hague: A defence

Indifference: The end of History and Russell Brand

‘If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.’ Wrote the famous anti-apartheid activist Desmond Tutu in 2003. ‘If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality’.

Citizens of western democracies cannot claim to live under the full weight of the elephant’s foot; the Orwellian boot-on-face states have vanished. Big Brother, doublethink and Airstrip One, endure in the European imagination as symbolic antipathies to what the West claims and aims to be, subjugation versus freedom, despotism versus democracy. Nineteen Eighty-Four embodies a certain type of dystopia, fictional horror born from the collective experience of a pervasive form of twentieth century totalitarianism.

For all his polemic clarity, Orwell’s analysis of revolution and state control remains limited and one-dimensional. In Orwellian dictatorships, control derives from direct force by brutal suppression of language, culture and thought. Orwell overlooked the coercive levers of power that operate through subtler channels of exploitation. He never questioned if societies can function through superficial opposites, as for example, totalitarian and promiscuous, repressive of political dissent but tolerant of personal freedoms.

In the West, protection of personal freedom is not only enshrined in law but saturates every dimension of culture. Westerners are encouraged to indulge in a plethora of consumerist freedoms through the daily bombardment of advertisement. Liberals applaud personal freedom as a zenith of human achievement and the apex of modern civilisation. They believe Western society presents endless personal and political possibilities. Westerners can eat and drink what they want, sleep with whom they choose and are free to construct individual and diverse personal identities. Politically, citizens can vote in elections, run as candidates and criticise the powerful openly without fear of repercussions. Stable states and prosperity has resulted in improved health and life expectancy, illnesses that would have resulted in serious injury or death can now be cured and curtailed.

What would Orwell make of our society? Would he claim that progress has dulled our appetite for change, or would he applaud our prioritisation of personal freedom, would he claim that we have reached the antipathy of his Big Brother, would he conceive that we have created a certain form of liberal utopia?

If we have achieved a high level of personal freedom and stability, how can political disengagement be explained? A stable and prosperous state requires political engagement or risks slipping into the service of undemocratic interests. Even if there is no visible elephant’s foot, is political neutrality and indifference a betrayal of Tutu’s sentiment?

Peter Hitchen’s of the Daily Mail seems to think so, in a recent article published on his blog about political engagement in Swindon, Hitchens claimed that the British public ‘recoil from the responsibility of deciding the future of the country. We pretend to be interested, but we run from any real decisions.’ For conservatives like Hitchens, the public remain disengaged because they are sedated by vulgar commercialisation, hedonistic pleasure and ‘plenty of fun’ and ‘fast food for sale, and wide uncluttered highways to drive on.’ Hitchen’s sombre view of political disengagement is a sharp contrast to the liberal argument and only superficially explains political indifference.

The End of History

The best way to understand indifference through a liberal lens is to read Francis Fukyama’s magnum opus The End of History and the Last Man. Fukayama wrote his essay against the backdrop of a dissolving Soviet empire, revolutions in Eastern Europe and the destruction of the Berlin Wall, his work was thus imbued with a sense of victory and myopic triumphalism.

The-end-of-history-and-the-last-man-Francis-Fukuyama

He claimed that since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 there remained no competitive ideology and system of societal governance to rival western individualism, free market capitalism and liberal democracy. For Fukayama, liberal democracy constituted the ‘end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the final form of human government’.

What Fukayama meant by the “end of history” was not that there would no longer be any ‘occurrence of events, even large and grave events,’ but that what had ended was history as understood ‘as a single, coherent, evolutionary process, when taking into account the experience of all peoples in all times.’

Although we may not consciously ponder his argument, most of us are still Fukayamarists. And as Slavoj Zizek argues ‘liberal-democratic capitalism is accepted as the final found formula of the best possible society; all one can do is render it more just, tolerant and so on.’ To Zizek, we can imagine small changes within our system but struggle to construct any viable alternatives. ‘It is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.’

Fukayama concluded The End of History and The Last Man by considering the prospect of ‘centuries of boredom at the end of history,’ that could possibly ‘serve to get history started once again.’ Have we reached that point of boredom? Or is there a deeper fundamental problem facing our democratic system?

Indifference

Fukayama’s idea of “boredom” – feeling the repetitive nature of reality, there is nothing more, we have reached the end – and Brandite apathy – “we don’t like how things are being run, but what can we do.” – dialectically reinforce political indifference. We might believe that we have reached the end of history but we are also cynics. This scepticism can easily be taken as a sign that people – particularly the young – are no longer interested in political engagement. 56% of young people between the age of 17 and 25 did not register to vote for the 2010 general election. A recent YouGov poll concluded that almost 60% of first time voters would not vote in the upcoming general election.

What these polls cannot capture is people’s engagement in broader political issues. Voting is simply a facet of democratic engagement and does not consummate the democratic process. Russell Brand has emphasised this point and challenged traditional liberal calls for the young to vote.

Brand

It’s easy to sneer at the pseudo-spiritual comedian-turned-political-commentator, but to his credit; Brand has engaged a wider audience in a discussion about the nature of democracy and representation. Brand’s basic point is that the democratic system in Britain is no longer representative of the majority of people, and that voting supports the continuation of a system that ‘destroys the planet, creates economic disparity and ignores the needs of the people’.

To some on the left, such as Mark Fisher, far from disengaging people, Brand has helped energies the forces of progressive discontent through a symbolic role. Brand

‘Functions as a figure of identification who intensifies and links together already existing struggles, and incites us to breach the invisible thresholds that lock us into atomised impotence.’

If we consider Brand simply as a figurehead, as Fisher does, then he has succeeded in bringing a multitude of issues into public discourse. Above and beyond his symbolic role, Brand represents an indifference that needs to be given coherent political structures. Brand was correct to conclude that voting is just one facet of the democratic process, but his solutions – or lack of – contributed to young peoples disengagement with politics more generally. Brand lacked a coherent alternative and was therefore unable to challenge the power he criticised.

MiliBrand

The Blairites effectively moved Labour from its working-class roots and early radicalism towards a full-unfettered embrace of the markets and deregulation. Progressives were left with a choice between the parochialism of mutant nationalists and Brandite abstention. That, however, has all changed according to BBC Business editor Robert Peston. Commenting on the ‘sheer scale of Miliband’s repositioning’ Peston suggested that Miliband is more like Thatcher than Foot, an opposition leader looking to reshape the economy while simultaneously dismissing the ideology of the old guard.

Miliband has slowly been edging himself towards the left by rejecting Blair’s centrism. His awkward orchestrated shuffles leftwards, culminating in an interview with the notorious non-voter and left wing populist Brand, are significant developments for the Labour Party. The interview was viewed by the Right as a dangerous flirtation with the extremities of the left; “red Ed” was attacked for massaging the Comedians ego in what they saw as a contemptible PR stunt that reeked of hypocrisy. The interview, and the proceeding endorsement of Labour by Brand, saw the marriage between the populism of Brand and the structures of the Labour party as the vanguard of a popular left-wing movement. Brand’s u-turn as the figurehead of indifference, to supporting Labour and urging people to vote, signifies that Labour now represent a coherent political structure for the apathetic on the left, as UKIP does on the right. Its move away from New Labour has allowed for this capitalisation.

russell-brand-ed-miliband

Regardless of Miliband’s stance, if Labour fail to form a government following the upcoming general election, he will almost certainly be deposed and its left leaning strategy will be seen as a failure. If such a scenario materialises, the Blairites will take control of the party and move it to the right, probably under the leadership of Chuka Umunna.

Would the rise of neo-Blairite’s in the Labour Party confirm Fukayama’s end of history theory? The neo-Blairites are end of history ideologues – ‘’The big difference between 1979 and 2013 is that we are all capitalists now’ Umunna claimed –, but their possible ascent to power post-election would reveal more about a lack of a coherent alternative than confirm Fukayama’s argument. A move to the centre could result in a PASOK style meltdown for Labour, its traditional working-class base feeling disenfranchised and the newly captured Brandite youths returning to disengagement, indifference and apathy.

In the run-up to the general election, Brand is now actively encouraging people to vote. He has realised that change comes about through both organic mobilisation and coherent political structures. Pre-election, by moving away from the centre, Labour has managed to capture the popular discontent on the left and has put itself forward as the party for change. We have not reached Fukayama’s end of history but are instead witnessing the collapse of his theory, the Labour party, SNP, Greens, Plaid Cymru and UKIP are all challenging fundamental aspects of how our society and economy functions. Fukayama’s vision of the end, of liberal democracy and free market capitalism will either need to adapt to new demands or be replaced. Voter turnout may be low, but there now exists – on the left and the right – a more fundamental demand for alternative visions and ways to engage people in democracy, Fukayama’s last man is awakening from his ideological slumber.

Indifference: The end of History and Russell Brand

Islamic State: cultural cleansing, purity and modernity.

The destruction of ancient Mesopotamian artefacts, and the ruin of vast historical archives by IS is both shocking and seemingly irrational. International enemies of IS have unanimously greeted every act of defilement with disgust, be it the torching of the Armenian Genocide Memorial Church in Deir ez-zor, or the burning of thousands of books and manuscripts in Mosul. IS’s propaganda videos celebrating the desecration and defacement of many original pieces from the Mosul museum have received wide international circulation. There has been numerous polemics attacking the barbarity of these actions, and commentators have abundantly drawn on the poignancy in the proliferation of vandalism from the cradle of human civilisation. Media coverage has further coagulated the opinion that such acts of cultural destruction are conceived through untamed fits of religious passion. Superficially, cultural cleansing by IS appears to be driven by religion, a primordial enforcement of celestial piety and a re-enactment of an imagined “pure” Islamic society that sharply defines right from wrong. Religiosity only explains the language IS operate through, and not the multiple materialist political foundations that are fundamental to the States survival and expanse.

Defining cultural cleansing and its objectives are crucial to understanding the political goals of IS. Most importantly, cultural cleansing is a political act, and has been used throughout history to enforce obedience, terror and hegemony. It can be characterised by four main points:

(1). Cultural cleansing has always been central to totalitarian ideology.

(2). It is usually justified through the inherently intolerant idea of “purity”.

(3). It aims to eradicate “impure” culture.

(4). It allows for the construction of a new narrative of the past that directly shapes the present.

Cultural cleansing and the annihilation of a nation’s past allow the arbiters of power to emancipate themselves from the shackles of history, to expunge the realisation that there have been, there are, and there will be alternative ways of living. The ruin of ancient Assyria in Khorsabad, or the destruction of Greco-Pathianism in Hatra, are both victims of IS’s aggressive policy of cultural cleansing. By destroying alternative narratives of the past, IS has freed itself to reinterpret, distort, dismantle and rebuild society in its own image.

Somewhat counter-intuitively, the West must accept that IS is a modern force rather than a “barbaric” one, and that its ideology is a contemporary offshoot of mainstream Islam. By trying to govern through the prism of a binary and philistine interpretation of the Rashidun Caliphate, the modern Islamic State has emerged as a novel and very modern phenomenon – that of violent political Islamism.

The Islamist embrace of modernity can be traced back to al-Qaeda. Osama bin Laden was the first Jihadist leader to exploit the power of modern technology, professing an interest in ‘earth-moving machinery and genetic engineering of plants’, as well as promoting intercontinental communication networks and forums for violent Islamism. Four years since the death of bin Laden, his brutal ideological successors in Iraq and Syria have succeeded in diversifying their manipulation of technology. Social media has been a vital tool for IS’s propaganda war and recruitment of foreign fighters. The West’s perception of IS as backwards is a stark contrast to their implementation of modern technology.

The West must look beyond – without ignoring – the propagandistic visceral acts of execution and cultural vandalism, and resist the temptation of simplifying IS as principally barbaric. IS’s propaganda aims to present the organisation as swift and brutal, as a sword of justice in a corrupt world run by Americans and Jews.

Like IS, the anti-Islamic right believes in a “pure” form of Islam that is inherently violent. Like IS, they claim that the holy Islamic texts justify violence. Both IS and the anti-Islamic right hold “literal” interpretations of the Quran . Such claims are theological positions and partisan, they do not reveal the so-called “true” nature of Islam.

Contrary to the dogmatism of the puritans, the history of the Islamic world is dominated by progression and civilisation and not unrefined savagery and atavism. However, it would be equally ignorant, if not as dangerous, to claim that IS has nothing to do with Islam. The emergence of modern Salafism, a puritan form of Islamic theology, was born in the 19th century, a reaction to colonialism and an attempt to counter the spread of “European ideas” and preserve a “pure” form of Islamic theology.

An interview conducted by Hasnain Kazim from Der Spiegel with an IS recruiter named Abu Sattar revels the degree of separation between the mainstream of Islam and IS. Sattar is clear on IS’s ideological position. Kazim questions Sattar’s interpretation of Islam:

“In the golden age of Islam, there was music, dancing, painting, calligraphy and architecture. Yet you are propagating an Islam free of culture and art. It is time to discuss religious content and find a modern interpretation, don’t you think.”

Sattar responds by saying:

“It is not up to us to interpret God’s word. There have been repeated errors and lapses in Muslim societies. That which you refer to as the “golden age” was one of them.”

By Sattar’s own admission, “errors and lapses” are continuously “repeated” and are thus integral parts of the complex historical tapestry of Islam. These “errors and lapses” are better understood as trends and interpretations of the Quran and Islamic holy texts that precede Salafism and in many cases oppose its fundamental principles. For any religion, trends of interpretation are integral to connecting the changing nature of the material world to the essence of dogmatic religious principles. No living religion has been able to survive without adopting processes of interpretation.

Now, imagine that an anti-Islamic westerner were asked the same question and responded with the second half of Sattar’s answer:

“There have been repeated errors and lapses in Muslim societies. That which you refer to as the “golden age” was one of them.”

It would be of little surprise to hear such a response. Such sentiment from the anti-Islamic right is paramount to the crude – and often bigoted – misjudgement that IS is Islam in its “purest” form. To accept this simplification is to reject the great human achievements of Islam, the golden age of the Abbasid caliphate, the poetry of Hafiz and the Sufi master Rumi, the cultured courts of Baghdad and Al-andalus, of Cordoba and Granada, to conclude that these were all mere irregularities in the expanse of Islamic history. The generalist that claims Islam has remained stagnant in primitive violence may only explain the rich scientific heritage of Islam through similar explanations. That Khayyam and Averroes were merely hiccups and mutations from unalterable stagnation of Islam and divorced entirely from their socio-historical environment. This narrative renders the common trends and manifestations of Islamic history as divergent, cancerous and apostolic.

Cultural cleansing by IS has had a twofold victory. It has succeeded in destroying the cultural symbols of divergent societies – be it Nimrud or the Saad bin Aqeel Husseinya Shia shrine – and has superficially confirmed the prejudices of the anti-Islamic right in the West by playing on visceral emotion and rendering the political objectives opaque. This mystification of motivation, of viewing IS purely as a puritan religious force separate from the political and materialist dimension, must not be allowed to condense further, for this narrative undermines the true nature and objectives of IS.

Artefacts sledgehammered in Ninevah Museum Mosul.
Islamic State: cultural cleansing, purity and modernity.