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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

strength through joylessness

“When it happens that a person has to give up a sexual object, there quite often ensues an alteration of his ego which can only be described as a setting up of the object inside the ego, as it occurs in melancholia; the exact nature of this substitution is as yet unknown to us. It may be that [by] this introjection, which is a kind of regression to the mechanism of the oral phase, the ego makes it easier for the object to be given up or renders that process possible. It may be that this identification is the sole condition under which the id can give up its objects. At any rate the process, especially in the early phases of development, is a very frequent one, and it makes it possible to suppose that the character of the ego is a precipitate of abandoned object-cathexes and that it contains the history of those object-choices.” – Freud, the Id and the Ego.

LI did not plan to write anything about Pinochet. But the astonishingly fascist Washington Post editorial, which bears all the hallmarks of a Fred Hiatt special (you can use the same rule of thumb on it as you use to spot rabies in a dog – check for foam around the muzzle) has made LI think again.

The celebration of Pinochet and his apologist, Jean Kirkpatrick, starts out with the patented cigars and whiskey tone that they used to like down at Signatures, the neo-con’s favorite Georgetown restaurant:

“AUGUSTO PINOCHET, who died Sunday at the age of 91, has been vilified for three decades in and outside of Chile, the South American country he ruled for 17 years. For some he was the epitome of an evil dictator. That was partly because he helped to overthrow, with U.S. support, an elected president considered saintly by the international left: socialist Salvador Allende, whose responsibility for creating the conditions for the 1973 coup is usually overlooked. Mr. Pinochet was brutal: More than 3,000 people were killed by his government and tens of thousands tortured, mostly in his first three years. Thousands of others spent years in exile.”

Creating conditions for the coup, that Allende. Hiatt does feel he has to tiptoe around the bodies a bit, but he comes back for the strong finish:

“Like it or not, Mr. Pinochet had something to do with this success. To the dismay of every economic minister in Latin America, he introduced the free-market policies that produced the Chilean economic miracle -- and that not even Allende's socialist successors have dared reverse. He also accepted a transition to democracy, stepping down peacefully in 1990 after losing a referendum.

By way of contrast, Fidel Castro -- Mr. Pinochet's nemesis and a hero to many in Latin America and beyond -- will leave behind an economically ruined and freedomless country with his approaching death. Mr. Castro also killed and exiled thousands. But even when it became obvious that his communist economic system had impoverished his country, he refused to abandon that system: He spent the last years of his rule reversing a partial liberalization. To the end he also imprisoned or persecuted anyone who suggested Cubans could benefit from freedom of speech or the right to vote.

The contrast between Cuba and Chile more than 30 years after Mr. Pinochet's coup is a reminder of a famous essay written by Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, the provocative and energetic scholar and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who died Thursday. In "Dictatorships and Double Standards," a work that caught the eye of President Ronald Reagan, Ms. Kirkpatrick argued that right-wing dictators such as Mr. Pinochet were ultimately less malign than communist rulers, in part because their regimes were more likely to pave the way for liberal democracies. She, too, was vilified by the left. Yet by now it should be obvious: She was right.”

Praising Pinochet’s economic policy is sheer fantasy, but this editorial does point us backwards and forwards – backwards to the primal beginnings of the neo-liberal world order, emerging as the Bretton Woods structure fell apart, and forwards to our recent, noble attempt to grant the ungrateful Iraqis the same wonderful shock treatments that Pinochet was good enough to visit upon his own people.

All of which makes me think of another event that happened in 1973: the publication of Joachim Fest’s biography of Hitler. In that biography, Fest wrote, at one point, that if Hitler had died in 1938, he would have been regarded as one of Germany’s greatest statesmen.

By coincidence, in 1973, that statement could jump out of the book and be incarnated in a real venue: Chile. In 1933, Hitler had set up seventy some concentration camps, had processed 45,000 people through them, and had effectually terrorized the opposition, unions, the socialists, the communists, and the cultural Bolsheviks, so that by 1938 many of the concentration camps could be closed down. Some of the guards in the more notorious concentration camp were even tried for their excesses – torture and murder. The racial laws in place were moving towards Kristalnacht, but hadn’t got there yet. Hitler had reinflated the economy, was pouring money into the military, was very soundly against the Bolsheviks. He was, of course, laying the foundation for the kind of guns and consumerism economy that West Germany adopted, with some major Social Democratic modifications later on.

I’m less concerned with all of the parallels here (although it would be interesting to see the response if Hiatt wrote an editorial praising the first part of Hitler’s rule, granting that there were certain human rights excesses of it, although one can’t really sympathize with the “saintly” Social Democrats, and surely they deserved blame for the social chaos that necessitated the Nazi seizure of power) than with one of them, which looms larger for me: the persecution of the “cultural Bolsheviks”. Why do these regimes spend so much time imprisoning singers, gays, poets, cabaret female impersonators, beggers, and the lot? Why do they rail against degenerate art, drugs, and the collapse of morality? I think there is an explanation beyond the personal peculiarities of Hitler or Pinochet. The reason, I think, is that authoritarian rightwing regimes aim, ultimately, at instituting a regime of seriousness. Seriousness is a political category. It has to be defended from the attempts of the Cultural Bolsheviks to undermine it because, in so doing, the C.B.s undermine something more important – the psychological underpinnings of the political economy as a whole. For seriousness is, in the end, about the id and its unstable objects of affection. It is about disciplining a nation to adopt one and only one overriding cathectic object.

Now, this psychological structure is somewhat disguised by the use of the slogans of the 19th century about hard work and thrift. That is not what is really happening. A Germany that was drifting towards slave labor was not a Germany that really wanted its population to be particularly industrious. Granted, the break up of the unions is about the greater exploitation of labor to the profit of capital. But in the dawning era of neo-liberalism, the psychological path that is being blazed is to impose a new cathectic object – money – upon the population as a whole. To paraphrase Freud’s famous phrase about the id and the ego, the psychological structure of the authoritarian states created by D.C. involve setting up the leader as an Id proxy, in order to replace him, as the chief sanctioned cathectic object, with money itself. There is, as Freud might put it, a mystery here: why does the fuhrer precede the dollar? I have some ideas about that, but... I will devote another of my lectures in the series, Confessions of an ectoplasm, to that fascinating subject.

But to return to matters at hand: this mass introjection of money is the whole point of the fascist regime. In Hitler’s case, the leader who bore this role was blind to it, but the pattern was set: first a leader who creates a disaster, then the leap into a money centered value system – first the Third Reich, then the West German miracle. Similarly, first Pinochet, then the Washington Consensus. First the Brazilian generals, then the Washington consensus. First the Argentinian generals, then the Washington consensus. First Suharto, phase I - the 800000 dead Indonesian communists - then the Washington consensus.

This is why, actually, LI believes that the U.S. is relatively immune to fascism – the leadership principle, here, would be archaic, a perversion. There is no need for it. Money as the great national cathectic object already rules. Thus, the short lived surge of Bush as the Rebel in Chief was doomed to parody from the beginning.

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