Multiplicity Or Homogeneity? The Cultural-Political Paradox of the Age of Globalization Xudong Zhang

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Multiplicity Or Homogeneity?

The Cultural-Political Paradox of the Age of Globalization

Xudong Zhang

The global event of the September 11 terrorist attack on New York brings to the fore the fragility and precariousness of an inter-dependent world. In this world, the unevenness, imbalance, conflict, and above all competing claims of truth and value (or what Max Weber has called the fight among the gods [Weber 1994, 78-79])1 tend to overwhelm the so-called rationalistic order of global capitalism and liberal democracy, an order that implies an overcoming of the Hegelian-Marxian History by the Kantian ideal of "perpetual peace." In the wake of this sudden upheaval and intensity of the political ("sudden" thanks to the ruthless effort at depoliticization we have been subject to since the end of the Cold War), both traditional lib-eral and radical positions seem to have been unable (or unwilling) to come up with explanations and analyses that address the deep-seated historical origins and contexts of today's conflict. Such explanations would make September 11, in hindsight, a disaster waiting to happen and, equally important, offer an intellectual and ideological alternative to the neoconservative battle cry for the Empire and its crusade against "evil." Anyone who does not want to be forced into the bleak choice between the "end of History" (Fukuyama 1992) and "clashes of civilizations" (Huntington 1996) must engage in a critical "cognitive mapping" (Jameson 1998) of the global political and cultural-political terrain in order to understand its basic fault lines and construct new narratives of the contradictions that motivate world events.

I seek to formulate a theoretical narrative by revisiting some structural and historical contradictions that tend to be concealed by the universalizing rhetoric of global capitalism as not only an economic system, but a system of production of culture and value as [End Page 30]well. These contradictions define the political nature of today's con-flict: they lay bare the ideological nature of various discourses of the universal and, paradoxically, keep the historical horizon open beyond the confines of the self-recognition, self-understanding, self-assertion, and political-discursive institutions of the bourgeois as a world-historical class.

My first step is to analyze the uniformity and exclusiveness of the political and cultural-political discourse of global capitalism, a discourse that, at the level of rhetoric, unfolds in terms of difference, diversity, multiplicity, and inclusion. This is followed by an analysis of the crisis of various forms of collectivity conceived politically or culturally, which are under constant assault and deconstruction not only by the capitalist world market but, equally importantly, by the rhetoric of the rationalistic individual now understood in cultural terms (despite the atomistic-universalist allergy to any particular cultural affiliation and loyalty). In this regard, it is no exaggeration to say that the global "free rational individuals," a philosophical sublimation of the international middle class, now see themselves as something "organic," as a "community" with its own myths and romances.

In the next section, I focus on the political-theological analysis of the structural contradictions and discrepancies of liberal democracy offered by Carl Schmitt as a conservative revolutionary in Weimar Germany. While guarding against the intellectual trap of a theoretical, even political, short circuit of a right-wing critique of the wishful thinking of middle-class politics with Leftist historical-critical analysis, I nonetheless find Schmitt's often penetrating insight on the political compelling. Schmitt offers a dialectical rethinking of the semi-autonomous domains of property, subjectivity, and culture (as "form of life" and as things pertaining to taste and judgment) that constitute the core values of liberalism as a universal ideology.

In the last section of the article, I seek to examine the prevalent rhetoric of Empire—currently shared by both the Left and the Right—in terms of the contradictions of multiplicity and singularity, inclusion and exclusion, diversity and uniformity, and so on, that are accounted for in previous sections. Admittedly, many of my arguments are not yet fully developed conceptually but remain embedded in those narrative moments, as linkages, flights, and mediations. [End Page 31]However, this essentially narrative attempt to establish some basic parameters of a critical cognitive mapping does suggest a new point of departure in rethinking the concept of sovereignty, which, as I suggest by way of conclusion, is a product of collective struggle and collective education dominated by the logic of the political and in this sense is something that must be redeemed from the tyrannical and illegitimate rule of the market place.

The Uniformity and Exclusiveness of Global Capitalist Order

Fredric Jameson teaches that the postmodern, ultimately, is the becoming cultural of the economic, and the becoming economic of the cultural.2 This seems to me to be the epistemological as well as political core of the Jamesonian discourse on postmodernism, now crystallized and popularized in the very title of his major work, Postmodernism [as] The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. The dialectical formula, which is the wave tip of a rich intellectual tradition, above all the Frankfurt school, is so familiar to us that we tend to gloss over it without going through the necessary analytical steps and the eventual political-philosophical evaluations the Jamesonian dialectic entails. Instead of blending the cultural and the economic in the playfully undifferentiated surface of the postmodern, or subjecting historical-situational analyses to all-purpose rubrics such as globalization, the Jamesonian proposal insists that we focus on the interpenetration of structurally differentiated forces of economy and culture, of market and libido, of consumption-based lifestyle and its ideological articulations of "subjectivity," all with an unambiguous emphasis on the primacy of the economic and, equally unambiguously, on the ideological understanding of culture as a markedly historical, and historically new, mode of capitalist activity.

Indeed, the postmodern and the global, before they can be mentioned in the same breath as something self-evident, must be grounded historically on something to be understood without the ideological supplement and cultural celebration we have come to know as postmodernism and globalization. And that understanding can only be achieved through an attentive reading of social, cultural, [End Page 32]and cultural-political constructs that are both conceptually and historically prior to the hegemony of the postmodern-global discourse. I analyze these constructs below mainly as a formulation of the universal claims of the liberal ideology.

It seems only indicative of the thickness of the present ideological-cultural atmosphere that scholars on postmodernism and globalization, especially scholars working in literary and cultural studies, rarely bother even to mention what constitutes the material, social, and political world that has come to be framed in postmodernist and globalist terms. One no longer feels the necessity, for example, to go through the conditions of postmodernity and globalization in more pedestrian terms of communication or information technology based on computerization, which transforms contemporary patterns of trade, finance, design, production, and marketing. Globalization as an idealized vision of the new intensity and saturation of the capitalist mode of production, above all as the new freedom of multi-national corporations, however, does not translate immediately or substantively into social and political freedom for either individual citizens of advanced capitalist countries or for non-Western groups of national and non- or antinational varieties. All of these technological transformations, however, as Jameson reminds us, are still based on the same hardheaded logic of "business decisions," which are nothing new; indeed they are as old as capitalism itself. Along with the perennial and, in many cases, deepening unevenness of capitalist development, as well as the unprecedented concentration of wealth and power in today's world, what is made postmodern and global is the self-assertion of the market now understood, through the medium of consumerism, in terms of the market and consumer ideology of freedom, diversity, multiplicity, and universality. To that extent, both postmodernism and globalization as ideologies must be considered for the ways they produce everyday life in the Western cities and their mirror images in non-Western enclaves. In this respect, what we call postmodern globality or globalized postmodernity is nothing more than the ubiquity, sameness, and standardization of a way of life completely contained within the system of capitalist production and consumption. This is the world sustained by the kind of efficiency and convenience of management and service we as first-world residents take for granted. Indeed it would be a euphemism to [End Page 33]call this "global space" a "discontinuous continuity" or "scattered homogeneity," because its daily experience is dependent—and contingent—upon total identification with the system; no deviation is allowed lest we find ourself left outside the "gigantic enframing (Ge-Stell)" (Heidegger 1974, 19) of machinery and technology (and the security and identity they provide).3

The saturation of commercial and ideological logos, images, and symbols in the everyday world; the libidinalization or sexualization of commodities; and the moral-political values of a consumer society ensure an almost exact overlap between the world of life and the world of culture, between the private and the public, both of which have lost their meaning and mutual relevance in the older context of the nation-state. If Ernest Gellner's (1998, 3-13) sociological-philosophical distinction between the "individualistic-atomic" vision and the "romantic-organic" vision of the modern times is still of some use value in today's context, it is that the dichotomy, which Gellner rightly sees as cutting across all political positions in every national situation, may help us see the dramatic shift of the profound fault line in the geographical terrain of a contemporary sociology of knowledge and cultural politics. In the post-Cold War era, the "individualistic-atomic" vision of Enlightenment and universal rationality has all but bestowed itself with a "romantic-organic," warm and fuzzy sense of community, multitude, and culture. Instead of arguing its rationally negotiated knowledge and ethics into being, often by challenging and subverting the worldviews uncritically based on custom and tradition, the new universalist-individualist vision takes itself to be culture par excellence and genuinely finds it surprising whenever its unreflectedness is challenged. Like the traditional "romantic-organic" person, the contemporary subscriber to the "individualistic-atomic" vision feels annoyed, shocked, and scandalized when having to argue her position as something other than natural, timeless, above and beyond history, something other than "civilization" itself. In other words, the neo-universalist discourse, of which the discourses of both postmodernism and globalization are crucial categories, thinks that it reflects not a form of life but being as such. Thus one may find something eerily familiar in Gellner's sociological study of nineteenth-century British society, where "the attribution of deep, trans-rational, organic wisdom in Britain is so [End Page 34]untidily and multifariously related to social strata that it simply cannot be tied in with, and reinforce, any political cleavages in the country" (10). Here, what Gellner describes as a kind of "inverse populism," an odd Gellnerian term for elitism by which the "unconscious political wisdom is credited to the ruling class," is, from a historical perspective even a Weberian sociologist would honor, only conditioned by the "sheer absence of peasants" after the Enclosures and labor migration to the cities (9-10). In today's world picture of the interdependent, free-flowing, even building bricks of global capitalism, the making invisible and irrelevant of yeomanry and unevenness does not point to the completion of a capitalist utopia, but rather to the self-delusion and built-in violence of a global regime of control and "management."

This political ontology of late-bourgeois society, to be sure, is best argued formally and rationally, that is, through the liberal-universalistic or individualistic-atomic language of the antiessential, anticultural. To this extent, John Rawls's (1993) conception of political liberalism is in every sense a more assertive, confident, actualized version of what Habermas can only attempt in the thin air of transparent rationality, if only because the author of communicative reason has not completely cleansed the specter of Weber out of his philosophical operation. Whereas Habermas evokes Kant, Rawls offers his "overlapping consensus" in a pluralistic society as the contemporary equivalent of Roman law. Habermas, despite his good intention and seemingly more reasonable proposal for rational communication and international cooperation, ended up providing the pale philosophical justification for what the "world-historical class" (Marx) or "world-historical nation"(Weber, "Nation-State and Economic Policy") engages economically, politically, in the form of military intervention, or in terms of jurisprudence. But this justification is made without a critical account of the changed historical and political substance of the bourgeoisie or of the latter's form of sovereignty, which, on the whole, depends on the economic, political, cultural, and military power of the United States as the self-appointed final guarantor of order and prosperity.4 Hegel's view seems to be vindicated here: it is the negative, the "bad," the "new," rather than the positive, the "good," the "old," that supplies the motor force for the dialectical movement of history. [End Page 35]

It is ironic that a more credible, but simultaneously more disturbing, challenge to Rawls is to be found in Richard Rorty, who has been railing against the American academic Left on the charge of the latter's lack of patriotism (Rorty 1998; also see Zhang 2000). It would be easy to dismiss Rorty if his was but another version of American jingoism. But Rorty is trying to revive the more traditional New Deal or social-reform politics by reminding his fellow citizens that the United States remains a deeply unequal nation when it comes to substantive democracy (distribution of wealth and so on), that the idea of their country remains "unachieved." His observation that Rawls's philosophical formulation of the liberal-democratic procedure is so good and smooth, but in an abstract way, that the privileged, the superrich, and the conservative will not have any problem with it is right on the mark. Moreover, his appeal to American nationalism always has a double-edge: it is directed at both social inequality in domestic politics and the newly emerging "international super-class" that, as a force of globalization, threatens even the U.S. state form. One of the more observant images in Rorty's Achieving Our Country is that, while the front seats of cross-continental flights are taken by the business elite, the rear part of the plane is weighed down by academics going to international conferences such as the one on globalization and mass culture at which I first presented this paper.

Rorty's position is noteworthy in that it indicates an internal rupture within liberal-democratic universalism: For people like him, who are unsympathetic, indeed hostile, to any political or intellectual search for an open historical horizon beyond the U.S. Constitution, the only way of combating the internal problems of liberal democracy is to seek inspiration from the older, classical model of national politics and to rekindle the idea or idealism of the nation-state. But Rorty's attempt to revive U.S. nationalism can be examined only in a global context of transnational mobility and conflict in economic, political, and cultural spheres. In this light, what Rorty suggests seems to be something ultimately more cynical and banal than what he would care to admit: namely, given the global dominance of U.S. military and economic power, given the institutionalized global inequality and hierarchy, and given that the U.S. interest is by definition global, the consolidation and substantive (not abstract or procedural) homogenization of U.S. national politics and national ideology [End Page 36]should be our first order of things. Here, for Americans and would-be Americans who are already and instantaneously universal in their unmediated locality, peculiarity, and parochialism, his philosophical short circuit between the idea of the United States and utopian vision of human history has indeed achieved some measure of concreteness. Only on this basis can one possibly make sense of his otherwise bizarre accusation that there is not a sufficient amount of utopian longing in Jameson's writings.

The Dilemma of the Nation-State and the National Subject of Culture

The near total overlap between the late-bourgeois, consumption-based concept of subjectivity and its assumed universality in economy, society, and politics can partly explain the flurry-blurry vision of the postmodern/global type, in which the nation-state, with all the legitimate and illegitimate violence and cultural claims it entails, has all but disappeared. A more historically grounded qualification of the nation-state's role as the form of government of the politically defined collective in this situation is needed. Given the historical mutual dependence between capitalism and state power, what has changed over the past few decades is the scope of this relationship (as well as the development of the U.S. state form that constitutes what Jameson [1998, 58] calls a profound "dissymmetricality" between the United States and any other nation-states in the world), not the relationship itself. Indeed, global capitalism requires global state form to provide "law and order" and larger ideological legitimation. But the emerging global regime is by definition a corrupt and inhumane state form in that it does not even pretend to be prepared to extend basic citizen and human rights to its subjects beyond the traditionally defined national borders. Thus, one may say that a double standard is an intrinsic feature of Western neo-interventionism. In this particular sense, the radical slogan "there is no outside"(Negri and Hardt 2000), while correct in its recognition of the universal capitalist condition of life today, seems to be doing the bidding for the ultimate target of its critique, namely the global regime of rule, which in reality has never succeeded in overcoming the unevenness and conflict [End Page 37] of its truly global territory or even had the desire to include the entirety of world population (both inside and outside its borders) into its economic, social, political, and legal community in terms of equal rights and equal protection. Simply put, no one yet has the legal or political basis on which to "hold the ruling class on its own words in substantive terms," as per the traditional political strategy of radical intellectuals challenging the status quo defined by the liberal bourgeois state that one can still find, for example, in the radical-democratic position of Ernst Bloch in Natural Law and Human Dignity (1987, 188-98).5

On the other hand, the nation-state is more than the only meaningful protection for many peoples and communities in the non-Western world against the multinationals' manipulation and the imperial West's deterritoralized state power carried by a whole variety of its economic and cultural agents. It is also the only viable platform of political participation and action in the given national situation. In view of this reality, to assail against the idea of the nation-state, national sovereignty, and national cultural and political life in an abstract, ahistorical fashion is one of the surest signs of a markedly America- and Euro-centric faith in and ideology of the universal-individualistic, which always sooner or later ends up in some kind of affirmation of the postmodern/global subjectivity as reaffirmation of notions of Western freedom and democracy. The last, as discussed earlier, is but a latter-day version of the romantic culturalism of a particular community, whose universal claims will always sooner or later end up as a thinly disguised chauvinism and racism.

Ironically, in the age of neoliberal economics, when entire countries and even continents are driven into a rat race or a "violent feud" over "who is more superfluous than whom" (Arrighi 1994, 330-31) before the "invisible hand" of the global market, and when neocolonialism has achieved its vividness in International Monetary Fund loans, American TV programs, and NATO military actions, "traditional" culture of the non-Western societies enters the consumer landscape of Western metropolises defined by the rising Bobos. Bohemian Bourgeois, a term shrewdly coined by David Brooks (2000) as the fashion observer from the neoconservative camp, is a sociologically noteworthy image in its focus on new combinations of financial and cultural capital that appear in the constitution of the "new [international] [End Page 38] upper class" with its gravity centers in the high-tech and fashion boomtowns in the United States of the 1990s (SoHo, Palo Alto, Aspen, and so on). In those yoga-practicing, scooter-riding, culturally rebellious, sexually enlightened, politically correct, health- and environment-conscious, professionals of the 1990s, described to the finest detail by the author with an overdosage of snobbish admiration, one finds more than a hint that the Sixties and all its rebellious energy, traced back to the early years of European romanticism, are now tamed and absorbed by a new concept, or rather performativity, of consumption. Yet the implications of the Bobos as a global social distinction go beyond the conservative obsession with regaining the cultural and philosophical territories lost during and after the 1960s. This performativity of consumption is embedded in the heightened inter-penetration of the economic and the cultural (rooted in the new meritocracy of U.S. university and corporate culture, the intermarriage between the possessors of cultural and financial capitals and so on). Both the economic and the cultural are being understood as simultaneously capital and body: In the Bobos and their celebration of their individual freedom, social prestige, and, above all, cultural productivity, capital has become the body and vice versa.

One should hasten to add that all those deeply ideological notions—freedom, diversity, multiplicity, and universality—are, by virtue of their overdetermination by consumerism, essentially libidinal when it comes to the understanding or self-understanding of a latter-day bourgeois concept of subjectivity. One may also remark that this particular concept of subjectivity is separated from its early—classical and modernist—bourgeois origins by a profound historical rupture. This rupture gives rise to the critical discourse on postmodernism and determines, in a relentlessly historical sense, that the continuity between a contemporary West and universal ideas of bourgeois revolutions is only nostalgically, sentimentally conceivable. Thus one may find the celebratory, ideological discourse of postmodernism and globalization in the same, structurally designated place as Weber's effort to rationalize a disenchanted world, partly by projecting the destruction of the Christian world of life to the Orient via his comparative sociology of religion (on Confucianism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and so on).

The Weberian discourse of Western uniqueness should not be [End Page 39] reduced to a kind of essentialist self-assertion. Rather, it betrays a historical anxiety over the question of identity and difference within the universal defined by capitalist conditions. It shows that modern subject positions and self-identities have been a passionate battleground even within the master narrative of the putative subject of capitalist modernity. Thus, it misses the point to refute Weber in the fashion of identity politics and multiculturalism, both of which presuppose the presence of the constitutional state and its definition of civil rights. A more intellectually productive approach would be to historicize and politicize the Weberian discourse as a narrative, an imagined, deeply ideological solution of the tempo-spatial contradictions of capitalism that articulate themselves across and beyond the boundaries of the nation-state.

The formal solution of the Weberian narrative of Western uniqueness and self-identity is inconceivable without its parallel narrative of the Other and the destruction of its self-identity when faced with the universal spread of modernity. Whereas the internalization of capitalism is made possible by showing that capitalist rationality and productivity are something developed out of the unique moral properties of a particular form of life, the impact of capitalist economic, social, and cultural order cannot be anything but traumatic and ruinous to those who do not possess the same moral-cultural properties and particularities. Here the Weber narrative proves to be at the root of every modernization theory and ideology that maintains and reinforces the view that, for every non-Western society, capitalism or modernity as such imposes an either/or choice: either become modern and stop being yourself or remain yourself and face extinction. Thus, for non-Western societies, the entry into modernity is understood as a fundamental transformation, negation, if not total rejection of their value systems, as a painful but voluntary severing and fracturing of their self-identity.

Among all these historical and cultural ruptures, the singular identity position, as both modern and true to one's self-understanding, is available only to the West as the true presence of historical time, the home of the secret soul or spirituality of capitalism. It is on the basis of this Weberian invention that the modern concept of "Western civi-lization" takes shape, through a fusion of the sphere of value with that of "the rational capitalistic organization of free labor" (Weber 2001, xxxiv), [End Page 40] an effort that defined the narrative enterprise of The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (Weber 2001). In this light, the allegory of Weber's storytelling is but an agonized elaboration of what still remains optimistic and innocent in Kant's moral philosophy: the naturalization of the rational and the rationalization of the natural. In Kant, in the name of Enlightenment and reason, the political self-recognition, self-understanding, and self-identity of the bourgeois class are seen as both natural and rational: the right of the property (Kant 1991). The New World Order and its universalizing tendencies cannot be understood without this hidden narrative of differentiation and hierarchy between the Self and the Other; between continuity and discontinuity; between origin, presence, center, authenticity, on the one hand, and the derivative, lack, periphery, and imitation on the other.

One may note a belated and more fatalistic answer to the Weberian question in Heidegger's famous or infamous interview with Der Spiegel where he says that the salvation of the West cannot be expected from, say, Daoism or mysticism from the East, but right here where the crisis occurred (Heidegger 2003, 44). For Heidegger, the encounter with Being would require a priori the recognition that there is a fundamental rupture, concealment, and separation between Being and existence, between reason and rationality, and so forth, which defines precisely the impossibility of a coherent narrative of modernity in terms of alienation and self-identity at the same time.6 Yet Weber was still trying to overcome the rupture of modernity by calling for a "politically mature" liberal-democratic Germany willing and able to compete with Britain and France in overseas trade and colonial expansion. The missing link (i.e., the colonial and imperialist expansion) is in actuality addressed by increased global capitalist division of labor, intensified exchange aided by contemporary transportation and communication technologies, and the emergence of a truly international class of professionals and consumers. The movement from bourgeois constitutional state to international law to world history in Hegel's political philosophy (which prefigures his philosophy of history in the most literal and structural sense) might be close to completion within the corporate world of capitalist production, but certainly not in the socio-political world of everyday life.7 [End Page 41]

The moral and political intensity of the Weberian dilemma, namely the internal, unsettling conflict between a nationalist Weber worried about the German empire and a rationalist Weber worried about universal rationalization, is rendered absent in the Americanized (à la Talcott Parsons), social-scientific Weber. But it seems nec-essary for a historical and cultural-political understanding of our times to face the specter of Weber in addition to the specter of Marx as argued by Jacques Derrida (1994). If Weber's stubborn insistence on an internal narrative of Western historical and moral continuity (in both temporal and spatial terms) proves old-fashioned, sentimental, and even embarrassing to today's enthusiasts for globalization and postmodernism, it is because it cannot but remain a grave reminder to existing or emergent groups and identities of the existential and political struggle implicit in their eventual coming into being, that is, their becoming political in the substantive battle for recognition and equality in every domain of human affairs, economic as well as cultural. It is fitting that the cultural-political paradox of the Weberian project of rationalization is solved only posthumously and ironically, that is, in the postmodern/global ideology that radically collapses the cultural and the economic in the new plane of consistency and self-differentiation, that is, in the form of liberal imperialism as a universalism. Jameson, in his analysis of the culture of global capitalism, calls this liberal universalismthe "oppressive multiplicity" (1998, 71-72).

Politico-Philosophical Paradox of Universalism

One way to view this oppressive multiplicity, which is still conventionally celebrated as diverse, fluid, productive, and liberating, is to look at its exclusiveness in the name of inclusiveness, its inequality in the name of equality, and its ideological homogeneity in the name of diversity and heterogeneity. This is, in other words, to examine the unspoken assumptions and principles of liberal universalism rooted historically in the concept of the political as an autonomous domain of human life. In this respect, one needs to look no further than Carl Schmitt's writings on the internal paradox and vulnerability of liberal democracy as the political framework of the universal. [End Page 42] In The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, Schmitt writes (and this was in early 1920s):

Under conditions of superficial political equality, another sphere in which substantial inequalities prevail (today, for example, the economic sphere) will dominate politics. . . . Wherever an indifferent concept of equality, without the necessary correlate of inequality, actually takes hold of an area of human life, then this area loses its substance and is overshadowed by another sphere in which inequality then comes into play with ruthless power.


From there he continues:

The equality of all persons as persons is not democracy but a certain kind of liberalism, not a state form but an individualistic-humanitarian ethic and Weltanschauung. Modern mass democracy rests on the confused combination of both.


What is interesting here, in addition to Schmitt's deliberate link of liberalism to ethics and world views (both ethics and world views, in the particular German context in which Schmitt wrote, mean something we would probably call a culture-based national ideology), is his way of driving a wedge into the porous and often fictional connections between liberalism and democracy. He achieves this by attributing the "individualistic-humanitarian" features to the former (liberalism), so as to define the latter (democracy) mainly in terms of homogeneity: "[Rousseau's notion of the 'general will'] demonstrates that a true state . . . only exists where the people are so homogeneous that there is essentially unanimity" (13).

Contemporary scholars, of course, can only take Schmitt's penetrating observations with a grain of salt. But what is important in his work is not somewhat sinister altruisms such as "every actual democracy rests on the principle that not only are equals equal but unequals will not be treated equally"(9) or "unanimity, just like the general will, is either there or not there" thus "whether or not there exists a [social] contract is meaningless"(14) (by that he means that the latter is only a liberal fantasy, not the way a consequential democracy works, which is through consensus formation by means of excluding and negotiating with the heterogeneous). Despite his political opportunism, Carl Schmitt, in fact, fully acknowledges that the [End Page 43]epochal tendency toward a more liberal and more democratic society is universal and irreversible. In terms of historical judgment there is little difference between him and Tocqueville. What is more useful for our critical considerations in the age of globalization and postmodernism, rather, is his unique way of differentiating moments and categories of the political to achieve a more historical understanding of claims to be above and beyond politics. He writes:

In the domain of the political, people do not face each other as abstractions, but as politically interested and politically determined persons, as citizens, governors or governed, politically allied or opponents—in any case, therefore, in political categories. In the sphere of the political, one cannot abstract out what is political, leaving only universal human equality; the same applies in the realm of economics, where people are not conceived as such, but as producers, consumers, and so forth, that is, in specifically economic categories.


It is through the relentless lens of the political that Schmitt captures the radically historical core of Hegel's "concrete thinking." In The Concept of the Political (1996) he observes, with convincing intellectual brilliance, that

The often quoted sentence of quantity transforming into quality has a thoroughly political meaning. It is an expression of the recognition that from every domain the point of the political is reached and with it a qualitative new intensity of human groups. The actual application of this sentence refers to the economic domain and becomes virulent in the nineteenth century. . . . The hitherto nonpolitical or pure matter of fact now turns political. When it reaches a certain quantity, economic property, for example, becomes obviously social (or more correctly, political) power, proprieté turns into pouvoir, and what is at first only an economically motivated class antagonism turns into a class struggle of hostile groups.


Thus, Carl Schmitt's notions of category and moment provide a dialectical concept of the coming into being of history and class consciousness. This may be the reason why both Georg Lukács and Walter Benjamin thought highly of him, even though the late Lukács, in his monumental work, The Destruction of Reason (1973), pointed out that Schmitt's theoretical operation was also available to the Nazis [End Page 44] and was indeed predicated on an anticipated disruption of European imperialist order by the Nazis, who could then be viewed via Schmitt as analogous to earlier bourgeois revolutions that toppled the order of European feudalism.8

But the intellectual usefulness of Schmitt in today's critique of liberal imperialism goes only so far. Whereas his description of the historically concrete processes of becoming political boast conceptual clarity and is often dialectic in nature, his critique does not go beyond the confines of liberal ideology but rather constitutes a practice of its fundamental assumptions. This is indicated by his desire to define the political as an autonomous domain of human affairs, where it can be sheltered from the concrete entanglement of economic, social, religious, and cultural determinations to reach its ontological purity and intensity. Not surprisingly, during the period of postwar German denazification, when forced to clarify the implicit or explicit ties between his legal and political philosophy to the Third Reich, Schmitt defiantly and confidently declared that his analysis of the working of the political is able to withstand all conceptual and scholarly scrutiny. In the end, and in a way more complicated than merely cynical, Schmitt mobilized and deployed liberal values such as the autonomy and apoliticality of scholarly and intellectual work to defend his own writings, which are antiliberal and political in nature. Such a circle of hermeneutics calls into question the limit of the Schmittian concept of the political, above all his friend and enemy distinction, as autonomous, existential, and totalistic.

"Empire" and Its Enemy

After the Reagan-Thatcher decade of privatization and the immediate post-Cold War decade of a New World Order, we have seen two simultaneous tendencies within the triumphant Western imperial discourse in its world-picture of the universal: One is the tendency to depoliticize and decollectivize, which often takes the form of neoliberal gospels of the market, technology, and the kind of social and consumer freedom associated with capitalist globalization. The other, paradoxically, is the tendency to politicize, which defines the concept of the political in terms of a renewed and intensified uniformity, [End Page 45] homogeneity, and sovereignty of the West understood, implicitly or explicitly, as a class-based international community whose cultural and political self-identity defines the global battle of "people against poor people" (to use a phrase in a hilarious New Yorker joke in ref-erence to the Republican party's tax reform). The discourse on September 11, in marking a "sudden intensity of human groupings" (Schmitt), seems to have been unfolding along the global geopolitical faultline of "we" and "they," "self" and "other," which has gained some clarity in the new global context of "friend and enemy" and of "good and evil."

In this context, postmodernism and globalization should be viewed as anything but an abstract, value-neutral, and apolitical universality within the liberal-democratic framework. Punctuated by four U.S. or U.S.-led wars in the Persian Gulf, the Balkans, and the truly borderless space of antiterrorism, the age of postmodernism and globalization proves to be not free from the "sudden intensity of human groupings," but instead a leveling force that brings all kinds of conflicts to the fore, irrespective of the traditional restraints imposed on them by local, national, and regional isolation, immobility, and inertia. If a global empire is taking shape, it is taking shape in the late-bourgeois fantasyland of total freedom and security of the Self by means of a total exclusion of the Other in civilizational terms. In other words, one should not, conceptually or in historical concreteness, confuse the Empire as a cultural-political discourse of self-identity with actions and dynamisms of global capitalism. The assumed spatial totality and temporal limitlessness of the Empire is but a discursive figure, a cultural self-recognition of the political subjectivity of the ruling class, whereas the substantial economic, social, and political reach of both its rule and the capitalist mode of production are subject to concrete analysis of very different regional, national, and transnational situations. The latter will always reveal a profoundly uneven and complex topology of historical temporalities and spatialities. The self-understanding of the Empire as a civilization governing not the particular social or human groups but "rul[ing] directly over human nature" (Negri and Hardt 2000, xiv-xv) corresponds not so much to the spread of capitalist production and consumption, which is uneven and, in some cases, unachieved even within the most advanced capitalist societies; rather, [End Page 46] it corresponds to a new concept of late-bourgeois subjectivity based on the convergence of the economic and cultural, the particular and the universal. In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, what Schmitt has called "the real battle against a real enemy" is indeed becoming part of the "ideal programs" and "normative prescriptions" (see Meier 1996, 20) of the Empire, which, at least in theory, will apply to both foreigners and U.S. citizens alike. At a superficial level, the all-encompassing rule of the global regime seems to have reached its planetary scale and its internal evenness and indiscrimination. But this is precisely where the Schmittian concept of the political loses its historical and philosophical substance and falls into a theological affirmation of the faith-based Selfhood (even though, at the level of abstraction and autonomy, Schmitt extends the same right to self-affirmation and self-defense to the enemy, real and imagined). Within the self-proclaimed imperial space, what is achieved is not a new concept of the universal, but the more archaic and provincial conflicts of religious war, racism, colonialism, and class oppression.

In this light, there can be a corrective to the otherwise unchallengeable, thus inconsequential, slogan made by Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt in Empire: "There is no outside" (to the Empire, which is a kind of mix of postmodernism and globalization, a conceptual construct made all the more normative than what the actually existing capitalist regimes can only claim on a shaky ground by a voluntarist and ahistorical Left vision of global utopia). As long as the "inside" is determined in terms of the collapse of political economy into libidinal economy in the even and homogeneous space of consumer freedom, production of everyday life, and the celebration of sameness, the outside can be clearly defined in diverse ways in terms of what is excluded from the homogeneous body-politik of the Empire. In other words, the rhetorical binary of the "inside/outside" (or the elimination of the "outside" from the position of the "inside") is meaningful only when understood politically and historically, and in terms of the irreducible contradictions coeval with forms of life conditioned historically by the capitalist uneven development. The desire to envision a unified global fight against capitalist world domination, whenever out of touch with the concrete becoming political in various lingering and residual forms of collectivity, is powerless in [End Page 47] the wake of the increasing clarity of the enemy-friend distinction whose current theological intensity in U.S. foreign policy and war propaganda tends to render the Schmittian formulations quaintly scholastic and even moot in comparison.

In this respect, postmodernism and globalization seem to function along the same political logic of liberal democracy: They require first homogeneity and second—if the need arises—the elimination or eradication of heterogeneity. Both the jargon of the postmodern and the jargon of the global mark the historical moment of the becoming cultural of the political, which must be grasped simultaneously as the becoming political of the cultural. If, as Jameson (1998, 74) reminds us, "the American way of life" has been successful in managing class struggle by providing "cultural" homogeneity over economic unevenness and political inequality (inequality in terms of substance, that is), then the age of postmodernism and globalization is in a transparent way the age of Americanization on a larger, but equally uneven, scale. But even while considering this normative notion of global postmodernity as global Americanization, one must find politically meaningful ways to do the following: to account for traditional and actually existing blocks of difference and resistance; to analyze critically but sympathetically their claims not just to "alternatives" but to the heterogeneous and its political and cultural-political self-assertion; and ultimately to come to a strategic assessment of the usefulness of those positions and ideologies in the truly global politics of anti-identification and antistandardization identity formation. Those positions and ideologies are sources for any meaningful concept of a better social system, not a liability or inconvenience for a quick leap into a global utopia defined exclusively by various political positions in the West.

One of the more convincing points one can find in Empire is this new political animal's interest not in waging war but in maintaining peace. But this, too, can be understood more forcefully in light of the Schmittian observation that any totalistic construction of a homogeneous concept of "us" is based, unwittingly or not, upon a false, apolitical, and unattainable illusion of the "total security" of our way of life, our being. The peace-seeking drive indeed touches on a fun-damental feature of all civilizational-imperial orders of "our way of life." From the Great Wall of China to the U.S. national missile [End Page 48] defense system, we witness the fantasy about total security. The Great Wall of China, which had already been penetrated time and again by hordes of nomads even before it gets symbolically "battered down" by the "cheap commodities of the bourgeoisie," in that splendid passage from The Communist Manifesto, stands to be rebuilt again and again, symbolically or otherwise. Total security, as Schmitt tells us, is itself built upon the notion of the enemy as the negated Other; the Wall denies their existence as human beings while secretly acknowledging the real threat this negated, dehumanized enemy poses to our wellbeing both from outside and within. The "gap" of the Manhattan skyline left by the destruction of the Twin Towers of World Trade Center is so profoundly disturbing, a daily reminder for New Yorkers, because it indicates both the increasing impossibility and the increasing necessity of the Wall: The Wall of modernization and modernity, of classical notions of security and protection, of a sheltered and protected life requires not only the apathy, indifference, and self-indulgence of wealth and power, but also, and more crucially, the work of the state that maintains the physical distance, separation, and destruction of the enemy. The political homogeneity required by the age of homeland security may prove alarming and ominous to those who cherish civil liberty and civil rights, but there is no denying that it is intrinsic to the very notion of freedom and wellbeing assumed by globalization and postmodernism as conventionally understood. In this particular sense one may concede that globalization and postmodernism as ideological discourses represent one more attempt to form a homogenous and exclusive self-identity by which to manage human conditions in the name of freedom, diversity, and multiplicity, by forming and producing subjectivity and the concept of human nature as such. In this sense, the Deleuzian philosophy of affirmativity, internal differentiation, and the multiplicity of sameness—all argued against the classical Hegelian notions of binary opposite and dialectic contradiction—is likely to become a new philosophical ground of ideological and cultural-political contention (Deleuze and Guattari 1987; Deleuze 1994). This concept offers opportunities for the culturalist concept of the liberal-democratic selfhood and sovereignty to deterritorialize and reterritorialize, to be everywhere and nowhere at the same time, to exist as the "body without organs," and to function as the ultimate machine of becoming [End Page 49]political in the battle of defining the universal in terms of the particular. With increased communication and interaction between different human groups at a certain level (that is to say, within certain class strata across the world), the exclusion upon which the necessary, though disguised, political cohesiveness and homogeneity has been constructed must be defined in terms of the radical otherness of civilization and humanity as such. If terrorism or Islamic fundamentalism did not exist, they would have been invented; the Iraqis, the Serbs, and to some degree the Chinese have been there, as has the African continent, in a less visible but, by virtue of its being kept out of sight, more frightening way. In this respect, too, there is little new. And Schmitt, too, has something ready to offer: At the end of The Concept of the Political, he observes (and this was 1932):

War is condemned but executions, sanctions, punitive expeditions, pacifications, protection of treaties, international police, and measures to assure peace remain. The adversary is thus no longer called an enemy but a disturber of peace and is thereby designated to be an outlaw of humanity. A war waged to protect or expand economic power must, with the aid of propaganda, turn into a crusade and into the last war of humanity. This is implicit in the polarity of ethics and economics, a polarity astonishingly systematic and consistent. But this allegedly non-political and apparently even antipolitical system serves existing or newly emerging friend-and-enemy groupings and cannot escape the logic of the political.


If one finds the political in its contemporary (postmodern) becoming apolitical, cultural, ethical, libidinal, or civilizational, one should also expect to see the cultural in its becoming political, social, strategic, economic, and particular. But this is also the moment to bring a critical discourse beyond the Schmittian autonomy of the political, as the last can be, in theory and practice, used to justify the so-called faith-based determinisms that give rise to a radical moral equivalence and abstraction to Hitler, al Qaeda, as well as G. W. Bush. What is lost in the Schmittian critique of liberal democracy through an intensified and autonomous concept of the political is politics understood not in terms of abstraction but in terms of historical substance of mode of production, class struggle, and human liberation in Marxian terms. Indeed, the autonomy and abstraction of the Schmittian concept of the political is possible only by means of [End Page 50] excluding the historical substance and moral imperatives of ongoing contradictions of capitalism in the world-historical context. That exclusion, when viewed in reference to the historical substance and moral imperatives it seeks to suspend, can only be made on the basis of a political decision against the rise of mass society, the proliferation of rights, and the still very limited advance of democracy for the working people all over the world.

Thus there is little wonder that the most insightful and devastating critique of Carl Schmitt comes not from the Left but from the Right, that is, in the form of Leo Strauss accusing Schmitt of not be-ing conservative enough, in fact, being still too liberal (Strauss 1996, 81-107). Rhetorically critiquing the liberal universal illusion, the conservative alternative to the question of "natural right" appears to seek a deeper moral grounding that governs the law of the political without letting it sink into the faith-driven battles of life and death (which for Schmitt still defines the horizon of the political). Leo Strauss rightly points out that Schmitt's has not escaped the Weberian question of the quarrels of the gods, namely, the irreducible con-flict of a pluralistic world of culture and value. Yet Strauss's own claim to have transcended the Weberian dilemma by resorting to the concept of natural right can only reinforce the existing power relations if it does not come up with a concrete social-political program that bestows natural right with historical specificity. But without the substance and specificity, Strauss's esoteric writing would sound very close to urging the ruling elites of regimes of power to naturalize and morally and politically assert its own mode of being without being distracted by the sentimental disturbances waged by the less privileged. In this sense, it is an equally fervent justification for the status quo in the name of the glorious past, even though, from the vantage point of classical wisdom, the contemporary discourse of universal progress and democracy has indeed been made to look superficial and hypocritical.

But is a Left, critical discourse of natural right possible? Can it be linked to any concrete social, cultural, and political program of collective struggle that constitutes a meaningful challenge not only to the procedural technicalities of liberal democracy, but to the social organization of capitalism in its totality? This, I believe, is to raise the same central question of Fredric Jameson's writings but from a [End Page 51] political-philosophical angle. Critical, theoretical particularities and specificities, however, can be obtained from this shifted angle. The current political tension of post-September 11 world affairs and the depressing state of political life in the United States has made this critical perspective an urgent matter. And anyone who refuses to equate the philosophical question of natural right to the ideological rhetoric of "moral clarity" as it is practiced by the current U.S. government in exercising its arbitrary power both at home and overseas must strive for an answer to the question.

If neoconservatism's theoretical and historical frame seems to be the unsettled quarrels between antiquity and modernity (a historical perspective necessitated by their desire to engage in radically contemporary questions, of course), then the radical-critical discourse must also be willing and able to rethink the historical contradictions in which its own positions and arguments have been shaped in history. This means a process of denaturalization and repoliticization of many of the assumptions and entrenched positions of the Left. The fiercely political and contested debate on identity, homogeneity, and sovereignty inevitably redefines the context in natural-historical terms. Here, one may start with an intuition at which point Rousseau, Schmitt, and Mao converge: "the general will" of the people, which gives ultimate legitimacy to state politics (indeed government as such), is a matter of shaping and construction through education. The general will, in other words, is the product of this state- or politically sanctioned education in the service of the legitimation of the state/government. Thus education is by definition prior to democracy and, in this particular sense, dictatorial in nature. If the king (the sovereign) is the one who decides on the exception, the dictator is the one who educates, who knows what the people's will is. This, I believe, is the right moment to return to the Jamesonian phrase "oppressive multiplicity." The phrase also gives substance to the common sense that, in the context of global capitalism and its postmodern culture, what dictates the will of the people is, ultimately, the capitalist logic of production and consumption. And the particular contemporary, or global/postmodern twist to that altruism is that, in the light of the becoming economic of the cultural and the becoming cultural of the economic, and in view of the interpenetration of capital and the body, the sovereign who decides on the content of an implicitly but [End Page 52] necessarily political education that is prior to the formal-legal notions of the universal is the market itself.

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