“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Monday, May 30, 2005

the national imaginary

LI wrote a friend last night that we were proud of France. And indeed, we are. From the U.S. perspective, it might seem that the oui vote was a sad necessity. Creating a counter-balance to the mad, bad power of the U.S. seems like a good idea, if you live in a place where they broadcast excerpts of speeches by Bush on the radio. I was vaguely of that opinion. But a less heated perspective is in order. The peculiar U.S. move for a harsher and more direct hegemony is meeting its natural limits already. It isn’t just the fact that the U.S. economy is fueled by an unsustainable explosion of private and public debt – there is also the very real regionalisation of America’s natural peripheral economy, Latin America, with its tendency to turn its back on the U.S. and its face towards China – it is the fatal overstretch of military power, rapidly coming to the point at which Bush will have to decide whether to pull back or destroy his popularity by asking for (gasp!) such sacrifices as a draft would entail. And there is the silent, spreading collapse of pension plans, from the 300 billion dollar deficit for public employees in the states to the crisis in GMFordDaimlerChrysler. Plus, what does it mean to “create” a counter-balance? This is the kind of things elites jump on. So – the non campaign in France, as one sifts through the data, seems to have localized in the old left.

When the Left’s incubus, France’s answer to Tony Blair, Lionel Jospin, jumped in to support Chirac, it was a sign that the constitution was doomed. But the dooming of the constitution was merely a sign of a much deeper discontent with the dirigiste class. In truth, the consensus among Left and Right policymakers since around 1985 has been that Europe must adopt Thatcher lite policies. Which is why you could put in your input – vote – for either party, and you’d get the same output – liberalization. That nobody wanted it didn’t matter – the elites, who will benefit the most from it, decided that it was good for you. The Left honchos decided to disguise their adoption of the economics of Thatcher by annexing the ideology of a charity. In this way, not only could they destructure working class culture and destroy its economy, but they could also shame them for being racist. A moral two-fer! And thus was born that curious bird, the upper middle class liberal – absolutely passionate about preserving, say, Aborigine cultures in Australia, while at the same time profiting hugely from the destruction of manufacturing culture here at home.

While LI is on board with the civilization project – the destruction of racism, homophobia, sexism and the rest of the Unbehagen in our culture – we are maximally suspicious of the emigration of liberating rhetoric to support liberalizing (read – anti social insurance) projects. The winner in France could be the Fabius wing of the PS. It was Fabius (a sort of PS John McCain) who said the obvious about the constitution last year – what kind of constitution goes to five hundred pages? If only the PS can break with the essential defeatism of its leadership – who still dream of being the Third Way, Blair’s partners in an Anglo-Saxon Europe – they can fill the vacuum between Sarkozy (France’s scariest politician) and Le Pen (an old clown whose moment of prominence in the last election disguised the fact that he received pretty much the vote he always received – it was the Socialist collapse that made it appear new and startling). The two English analyses we liked best were by Larry Elliott and Will Hutton.

However, as a sample of elite opinion, we recommend, for those of you who read French, this article that first appeared in Liberation last year. “Derriere la social, la nation” by Francois Dubet is a perfect expression of elite contempt for the working class – time to liquidate the rednecks – in the form of a diagnosis of the ‘non’ mentality. For the elite, labor mobility is an essential and non-problematic part of capitalism. LI actually thinks that this is probably true – but we also think that it is a truth from which the elite is comfortably insulated, since, somehow, French companies don’t look for cheaper CEOs among Algerian immigrants. That the sector of society most insulated from competition is always urging the sector most exposed to it to just get over it somehow, gosh, gets the peons mad. Imagine that! The keynote of Dubet’s analysis is struck, here: “Everywhere [in Europe’ things seem “normal” save in France, where there is installed a no of the left identified with resistance to savage liberalism, the defense of public services and social attainments uprooted from the thread of its history and its struggles. In France, the claims and social worries traditionally borne by the left tip towards the defense of a national identity: the social becomes national. One could think that French particularity is enough to understand and justify this weirdness. [I can’t translate the full, rich flavor of that last sentence. In the French it is “On peut penser que la « spécificité française » suffit à comprendre et à justifier cette bizarrerie.”]

Having embraced the jet and been to New York, how are you gonna keep em down on the farm in Poitiers? seems to be the underlying message. The weird idea that you should defend a – shudder – nation, of all things, percolates through Dubet’s sociologue’s soul like a laxative. Everything is here. Professor Dubet would, himself, definitely be throwing caution to the wind and climbing the barricades himself, but alas, the ‘revolutionary project’ is dead. Rather convenient, actually. It means that the defense of the left’s successes, the social democratic state, can only be undertaken by a mutton headed left that doesn’t understand this central point and is obviously latently racist. The proof? Why, the incomprehensible idea that the scale of governance should be at the level of the traditional nation:

“Beyond the critique of liberalism, of which a constitution could always protect us more than an accumulation of free exchange treaties, the no of the left expresses the defense of a national republican model anchored in the heart of our “imaginaire politique.”” Actually, the first clause of that sentence is absolutely bogus. But the main thing, here, is the socio-psychoanalysis a la Lacan’s imaginaire – a handy scalpel suddenly appears in Dr. Frankenstein’s hand, and now he can go to work. “

"The sage alternativist appeals to international economic regulation don’t resist a radical anti-capitalism that is not even associated to a revolutionary project. Under the pretext of refusing ultraliberalism, all the “others”, from within or without, appear as potential enemies. The cultural claims are rejected from the outset into the hell of communitarianism, even if we become, us too, more and more communitarian, as a good part of the left finds itself silent in the face of demonstrations against “anti-white” racism or the banal xenophobia against the entry of Turkey.”

Never has the appeal to one’s virtuous adherence to the “revolutionary project” served a more abject goal as the shoring up of the constitution of Valery Giscard D’estaing. It is, depressingly, but not surprising, that this stuff was reprinted in Multitudes, the on-line outlet for the Badiou-wing of radical philosophy. This is Rawlsism with a Che Guevara face. And it stinks.


### said...

I'm spending my fabulous Memorial day reading the thing. I thought the Brazilian constituition was long, at least that was my impression when I read it, on a day that I was so bored I was reading constituitions for fun.

But Brazil's is only 57 pages. Not that long at all, in comparison.

I wonder how many people have honestly read the whole thing. I will probably skim big chunks, so I don't count.

roger said...

Yeah. I hear the section on the allowable length of cheese parings isn't as exciting as it sounds...
I hope you've stocked up on vodka for your epic quest!