Nietzsche took a satiric pleasure in quoting one of the Church fathers, Tertullian, whose idea of the cosmos built by the God of Love included box seats in heaven for the saints to look down and savor the screams and tortures of the damned in hell. However, Tertullian had a point: as he might well have replied to Nietzsche, who can resist so holy a temptation?
The pale inheritors of the cosmos planned for love are surely the socialists. As a sometimes member of the flock of the left, I, like Tertullian, take delight in the screams of the vanquished when I can. Those screams have shifted venues from the abode of eternal darkness to the comments columns under news stories and opinion pieces. You can tell a pleasure that is corrupted by temptation from one that isn’t by the fact that the former is never pure: yes, you go to hear the screams of the vanquished partisans of the right, and before you know it you are getting angry, scandalized, and not at all in the mood of savoring a triumph . Because just as the damned are still damned, the rightwinger is still a rightwinger in defeat. I know this, but such is the folly of fallen human nature that I still went, this morning, to the comments section under the Guardians comment piece – What do you Think of the French Election?
At the moment, the abiding Rightwing yelp seems to be that socialism is for cretins. Real men know that reality is about realism, and realism is about European populations realizing they can’t borrow any more. They owe so much! So the only thing to do is to retire later in life, for less of a pension, while working for less. And of course giving up healthcare and education, or paying immensely more for it.
This is a curious kind of realism. It is a sort of gluesniffing realism. It consists of thinking that the height of unrealism is paying a factory worker more than 10 euros per hour, or paying a hedgefund manager less than a thousand euros per hour. It is the realism of fools – to parody a famous phrase.
Realism begins by looking at what is real in the world and asking how it got there and how it can continue. When one looks at a shadow financial system that has accumulated a nominal 400 trillion dollars in derivatives and options, one sees an affair that can’t continue. When one looks at an investing class that was literally flooded with money by world governments for two years, through loans that were pure gifts as well as pure gifts (worldwide, the amount is well over 16 trillion dollars), you see a structure that was righted at great cost, to benefit the few – which also can’t continue. And when you see a wealth hierarchy in which those who contribute, socially, little (upper management) in response to those who contribute, socially, nothing (investors), engross almost all, while those who contribute nearly all (workers) are rudely asked to live much worse lives – because they ‘owe’ the people the state broke its back bailing out – you are looking at one of those power machines that are doomed by a very simple reality that keeps emerging again and again in the last two hundred years. It is this: a majority can only be lead to denude itself of its stuff, its privileges, its rights, when it is tricked into thinking that some enemy lies in wait, victory over which requires that sacrifice.
Otherwise, to pluck the 99 percent, you need a con, you need the old three card monte. That was the trick of the neo-liberal order – substitute expanded credit limits for expanded pay packages, and plug the assets of the wage class into investment modalities, thus weakening their sense of self interest. It was a good trick, but it has turned rotten.
The realism of the right at the moment is the old boy’s club realism. The natives may be restless, but give em a good drubbing and they will calm down. It wouldn’t be realistic to predict the date of the end of the old boy’s club. But it would be less realistic still to predict that it won’t end, sooner or later.