. . . . . . Against the Populist Temptation •
. . . . . . . . . Slavoj Zizek

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The French and Dutch NO to the project of European constitution was a clear-cut case of what in the "French theory" is referred to as a floating signifier: a NO of confused, inconsistent, overdetermined meanings, a kind of container in which the defense of workers' rights coexists with racism, in which the blind reaction to a perceived threat and fear of change coexist with vague utopian hopes. We are told that the NO was really a NO to many other things: to the Anglo-Saxon neoliberalism, to Chirac and the present French government, to the influx of the immigrant workers from Poland who lower the wages of the French workers, etc.etc. The real struggle is going on now: the struggle for the meaning of this NO - who will appropriate it? Who - if anyone - will translate it into a coherent alternate political vision?

If there is a predominant reading of the NO, it is a new variation on the old Clinton motto "It's the economy, stupid!": the NO was supposedly a reaction to Europe's economic lethargy, falling behind with regard to other newly emerging blocks of economic power, its economic, social, and ideologico-political inertia - BUT, paradoxically, an inappropriate reaction, a reaction ON BEHALF OF this very inertia of the privileged Europeans, of those who want to stick to old Welfare State privileges. It was the reaction of "old Europe," triggered by the fear of any true change, the refusal of the uncertainties of the Brave New World of globalist modernization. [1] No wonder that the reaction of the "official" Europe was the one of near-panic at the dangerous "irrational" racist and isolationist passions that sustained the NO, at a parochial rejection of openness and liberal multiculturalism. One is used to hear complaints about the growing apathy among the voters, about the decline of popular participation in politics, so worried liberals talk all the time about the need to mobilize people in the guise of civil society initiatives, to engage them more in a political process. However, when people awaken from their apolitical slumber, it is as a rule in the guise of a rightist populist revolt - no wonder many enlightened technocratic liberals now wonder whether the hitherto "apathy" was not a blessing in disguise.

One should be attentive here to how even those elements which appear as pure Rightist racism are effectively a displaced version of workers' protests: of course there is racism in demanding the end of immigration of foreign workers which poser a threat to our employment; however, one should bear in mind the simple fact that the influx of immigrant workers from the post-Communist countries is not the consequence of some multiculturalist tolerance - it effectively IS part of the strategy of the capital to held in check the workers' demands - this is why, in the US, Bush did more for the legalization of the status of Mexican illegal emigrants than the Democrats caught in the trade union pressures. So, ironically, the Rightist racist populism is the today the best argument that the "class struggle," far from being "obsolete," goes on - the lesson the Left should learn from it is that one should not commit the error symmetrical to that of the populist racist mystification/displacement of the hatred onto foreigners, and to "throw the baby out with the dirty water," i.e., to merely oppose populist anti-immigrant racism on behalf of multiculturalist openness, obliterating its displaced class content - benevolent as it wants to be, the mere insistence on multiculturalist openness is the most perfidious form of anti-workers class struggle...

Typical is here the reaction of German mainstream politicians to the formation of the new Linkspartei for the 2005 elections, a coalition of the East German PDS and the Leftist dissidents of the SPD - Joschka Fischer himself reached one of the lowest points in his career when he called Oscar Lafontaine "a German Haider" (because Lafontaine protested the import of cheap East European labor to lower the wages of German workers). It is symptomatic in what an exaggerated and panicky way the political (and even cultural) establishment reacted when Lafontaine referred to "foreign workers," or when the secretary of the SPD called the financial speculators "locusts" - as if we are witnessing a full neo-Nazi revival. This total political blindness, this loss of the very capacity to distinguish Left and Right, betrays a panic at politicization as such. The automatic dismissal of entertaining any thoughts outside the established post-political coordinates as "populist demagoguery" is the hitherto purest proof that we effectively live under a new Denkverbot. (The tragedy, of course, is that the Linkspartei effectively IS a pure protest party with no global viable program of change.)

It is not only that today's political field is polarized between the post-political administration and populist politicization; phenomena like Berlusconi demonstrate how the two opposites can even coexist in the same political force: is the Berlusconi movement Forza Italia! not a case of post-political populism, i.e., of a mediatic-administrative government legitimizing itself in populist terms. And does the same not hold to some degree even for the Blair government in the UK, or for the Bush administration in the US? In other words, is populism not progressively replacing the multi-culturalist tolerance as the "spontaneous" ideological supplement to the post-political administration, as its "pseudo-concretization," its translation into a form that can appeal to the individuals' immediate experience? The key fact here is that pure post-politics (a regime whose self-legitimization would have been thoroughly "technocratic," presenting itself as competent administration) is inherently impossible: any political regime needs a supplementary "populist" level of self-legitimization.

Populism: From the Antinomies Of the Concept...

The French-Belgian NO thus presents us with the latest adventure in the story of populism. For the enlightened liberal-technocratic elite, populism is inherently "proto-Fascist," the demise of political reason, a revolt in the guise of the outburst of blind utopian passions. The easiest reply to this distrust would have been to claim that populism is inherently neutral: a kind of transcendental-formal political dispositif that can be incorporated into different political engagements. This option was elaborated in detail by Ernesto Laclau. [2]

For Laclau, in a nice case of self-reference, the very logic of hegemonic articulation applies also to the conceptual opposition between populism and politics: "populism" is the Lacanian objet a of politics, the particular figure which stands for the universal dimension of the political, which is why it is "the royal road" to understanding the political. Hegel provided a term for this overlapping of the universal with part of its own particular content: "oppositional determination /gegensaetzliche Bestimmung/" as the point at which the universal genus encounters itself among its particular species. Populism is not a specific political movement, but the political at its purest: the "inflection" of the social space that can affect any political content. Its elements are purely formal, "transcendental," not ontic: populism occurs when a series of particular "democratic" demands (for better social security, health services, lower taxes, against war, etc.etc.) is enchained in a series of equivalences, and this enchainment produces "people" as the universal political subject. What characterizes populism is not the ontic content of these demands, but the mere formal fact that, through their enchainment, "people" emerges as a political subject, and all different particular struggles and antagonisms appears as parts of a global antagonistic struggle between "us" (people) and "them." Again, the content of "us" and "them" is not prescribed in advance but, precisely, the stake of the struggle for hegemony: even ideological elements like brutal racism and anti-Semitism can be enchained in a populist series of equivalences, in the way "them" is constructed.

It is clear now why Laclau prefers populism to class struggle: populism provides a neutral "transcendental" matrix of an open struggle whose content and stakes are themselves defined by the contingent struggle for hegemony, while "class struggle" presupposes a particular social group (the working class) as a privileged political agent; this privilege is not itself the outcome of hegemonic struggle, but grounded in the "objective social position" of this group - the ideologico-political struggle is thus ultimately reduced to an epiphenomenon of "objective" social processes, powers and their conflicts. For Laclau, on the contrary, the fact that some particular struggle is elevated into the "universal equivalent" of all struggles is not a pre-determined fact, but itself the result of the contingent political struggle for hegemony - in some constellation, this struggle can be the workers' struggle, in another constellation, the patriotic anti-colonialist struggle, in yet another constellation the anti-racist struggle for cultural tolerance... there is nothing in the inherent positive qualities of some particular struggle that predestines it for such a hegemonic role of the "general equivalent" of all struggles. The struggle for hegemony thus not only presupposes an irreducible gap between the universal form and the multiplicity of particular contents, but also the contingent process by means of which one among these contents is "transubstantiated" into the immediate embodiment of the universal dimension - say (Laclau's own example), in Poland of the 1980, the particular demands of Solidarnosc were elevated into the embodiment of the people's global rejection of the Communist regime, so that all different versions of the anti-Communist opposition (from the conservative-nationalist opposition through the liberal-democratic opposition and cultural dissidence to Leftist workers' opposition) recognized themselves in the empty signifier Solidarnosc.

This is how Laclau tries to distinguish his position both from gradualism (which reduces the very dimension of the political: all that remains is the gradual realization of particular "democratic" demands within the differential social space) as well as from the opposite idea of a total revolution that would bring about a fully self-reconciled society: what both extremes miss is the struggle for hegemony in which a particular demand is "elevated to the dignity of the Thing," i.e., comes to stand for the universality of "people." The field of politics is thus caught in an irreducible tension between "empty" and "floating" signifiers: some particular signifiers start to function as "empty," directly embodying the universal dimension, incorporating into the chain of equivalences which they totalize a large number of "floating" signifiers. [3] Laclau mobilizes this gap between the "ontological" need for a populist protest vote (conditioned by the fact that the hegemonic power discourse cannot incorporate a series of popular demands) and the contingent ontic content to which this vote gets attached, to explain the shift of many French voters who, till the 1970s, supported the Communist Party to the Rightist populism of the Front National [4] - the elegance of this solution is that it dispenses us with the boring topic of the alleged "deeper (totalitarian, of course) solidarity" between the extreme Right and the "extreme" Left.

Although Laclau's theory of populism stands out as one of the today's great (and, unfortunately for social theory, rare) examples of true conceptual stringency, one should note a couple of problematic features; the first one concerns his very definition of populism: the series of formal conditions he enumerates are not sufficient to justify calling a phenomenon "populist" - a thing to be added is the way the populist discourse displaces the antagonism and constructs the enemy: in populism, the enemy is externalized/reified into a positive ontological entity (even if this entity is spectral), whose annihilation would restore balance and justice; symmetrically, our own - the populist political agent's - identity is also perceived as pre-existing the enemy's onslaught. Let us take Laclau's own precise analysis of why one should count Chartism as populism:

Its dominant leitmotiv is to situate the evils of society not in something that is inherent in the economic system, but quite the opposite: in the abuse of power by parasitic and speculative groups which have control of political power - 'old corruption,' in Cobbett's words. /.../ It was for this reason that the feature most strongly picked out in the ruling class was its idleness and parasitism. [5]

In other words, for a populist, the cause of the troubles is ultimately never the system as such, but the intruder who corrupted it (financial manipulators, not capitalists as such, etc.); not a fatal flaw inscribed into the structure as such, but an element that doesn't play its role within the structure properly. For a Marxist, on the contrary (like for a Freudian), the pathological (deviating misbehavior of some elements) is the symptom of the normal, an indicator of what is wrong in the very structure that is threatened with "pathological" outbursts: for Marx, economic crises are the key to understanding the "normal" functioning of capitalism; for Freud, pathological phenomena like hysterical outbursts provide the key to the constitution (and hidden antagonisms that sustain the functioning) of a "normal" subject. This is also why Fascism definitely is a populism: its figure of the Jew is the equivalential point of the series of (heterogeneous, inconsistent even) threats experienced by individuals: Jew is simultaneously too intellectual, dirty, sexually voracious, too hard-working, financial exploiter... Here we encounter another key feature of populism not mentioned by Laclau: not only is - as he is right to emphasize - the populist Master-Signifier for the enemy empty, vague, imprecise, etc.:

/.../ to say that the oligarchy is responsible for the frustration of social demands is not to state something which can possibly be read out of the social demands themselves; it is provided from outside those social demands, by a discourse on which they can be inscribed. /.../ It is here that the moment of emptiness necessarily arises, following the establishment of equivalential bonds. Ergo, 'vagueness' and 'imprecision,' but these do not result from any kind of marginal or primitive situation; they are inscribed in the very nature of the political. [6]

In populism proper, this "abstract" character is furthermore always supplemented by the pseudo-concreteness of the figure that is selected as THE enemy, the singular agent behind all the threats to the people. One can buy today laptops with the keyboard artificially imitating the resistance to the fingers of the old typewriter, as well as the typewriter sound of the letter hitting the paper - what better example of the recent need for pseudo-concrecy? Today, when not only social relations but also technology are getting more and more non-transparent (who can visualize what is going on inside a PC?), there is a great need to re-create an artificial concrecy in order to enable individuals to relate to their complex environs as to a meaningful life-world. In computer programming, this was the step accomplished by Apple: the pseudo-concrecy of icons. Guy Debord's old formula about the “society of spectacle" is thus getting a new twist: images are created in order to fill in the gap that separates the new artificial universe from our old life-world surroundings, i.e., to “domesticate" this new universe. And is the pseudo-concrete populist figure of the "Jew" that condenses the vast multitude of anonymous forces that determine us not analogous to a computer board that imitates the old typewriter board? Jew as the enemy definitely emerges from outside the social demands that experience themselves as frustrated.

This supplement to Laclau's definition of populism in no way implies any kind of regress at the ontic level: we remain at the formal-ontological level and, while accepting Laclau's thesis that populism is a certain formal political logic, not bounded by any content, only supplement it with the characteristic (no less "transcendental" its other features) of "reifying" antagonism into a positive entity. As such, populism by definition contains a minimum, an elementary form, of ideological mystification; which is why, although it is effectively a formal frame/matrix of political logic that can be given different political twists (reactionary-nationalist, progressive-nationalist...), nonetheless, insofar as, in its very notion, it displaces the immanent social antagonism into the antagonism between the unified "people" and its external enemy, it harbors "in the last instance" a long-term proto-Fascist tendency. [7]

In short, I agree with Laclau's attempt to define populism in a formal-conceptual way, also taking note of how, in his last book, he has clearly shifted his position from "radical democracy" to populism (he now reduces democracy to the moment of democratic demand WITHIN the system); however, as it is clear to him, populism can also be very reactionary - so how are we to draw a line here? (One can easily imagine a situation determined by a tension between the institutionalized democratic power-bloc and the oppositional populist block, in which one would definitely opt for the institutionalized democratic block - say, a situation in which a liberal-democratic regime in power is threatened by a large scale racist-populist movement.) So, again, is there a way to draw the line at a formal-conceptual level? My wager is a yes.

Every construction of and action on behalf of people as a political subject is not eo ipso populism. In the same way that Laclau likes to emphasize how Society doesn't exist, the People also doesn't exist, and the problem with populism is that, within its horizon, people DOES exist - the People's existence is guaranteed by its constitutive exception, by the EXTERNALIZATION of the Enemy into a positive intruder/obstacle. The formula of the truly democratic reference to the people should thus be a paraphrase of Kant's definition of beauty as Zweckmaessigkeit ohne Zweck: the popular without people, i.e., the popular cut through, thwarted, by a constitutive antagonism which prevents it to acquire the full substantial identity of a People. That's why populism, far from standing for the political as such, always involves a minimal DE-POLITICIZATION, "naturalization," of the political.

This accounts for the fundamental paradox of the authoritarian Fascism is that it almost symmetrically inverts what Mouffe calls the "democratic paradox": if the wager of (institutionalized) democracy is to integrate the antagonistic struggle itself into the institutional/differential space, transforming it into regulated agonism, Fascism proceeds in the opposite direction. While Fascism, in its mode of activity, brings the antagonistic logic to its extreme (talking about the "struggle to death" between itself and its enemies, and always maintaining - if not realizing - a minimum of an extra-institutional threat of violence, of a "direct pressure of the people" by-passing the complex legal-institutional channels), it posits as its political goal precisely the opposite, an extremely ordered hierarchic social body (no wonder Fascism always relies on organicist-corporatist metaphors). This contrast can be nicely rendered in the terms of the Lacanian opposition between the "subject of enunciation" and the "subject of the enunciated (content)": while democracy admits antagonistic struggle as its goal (in Lacanese: as its enunciated, its content), its procedure is regulated-systemic; Fascism, on the contrary, tries to impose the goal of hierarchically structured harmony through the means of an unbridled antagonism.

In a homologous way, the ambiguity of the middle class, this contradiction embodied (as already Marx put it apropos Proudhon), is best exemplified by the way it relates to politics: on the one hand, the middle class is against politicization - they just want to sustain their way of life, to be left to work and lead their life in peace (which is why they tend to support the authoritarian coups which promise to put an end to the crazy political mobilization of society, so that everybody can return to his or her proper work). On the other hand, they - in the guise of the threatened patriotic hard-working moral majority - are the main instigators of the grass-root mass mobilization (in the guise of the Rightist populism - say, in France today, the only force truly disturbing the post-political technocratic-humanitarian administration is le Pen's National Front.

Furthermore, it is not only that today's political field is polarized between the post-political administration and populist politicization; phenomena like Berlusconi demonstrate how the two opposites can even coexist in the same political force: is the Berlusconi movement Forza Italia! not a case of post-political populism, i.e., of a mediatic-administrative government legitimizing itself in populist terms. And does the same not hold to some degree even for the Blair government in the UK, or for the Bush administration in the US? In other words, is populism not progressively replacing the multi-culturalist tolerance as the "spontaneous" ideological supplement to the post-political administration, as its "pseudo-concretization," its translation into a form that can appeal to the individuals' immediate experience? The key fact here is that pure post-politics (a regime whose self-legitimization would have been thoroughly "technocratic," presenting itself as competent administration) is inherently impossible: any political regime needs a supplementary "populist" level of self-legitimization.

This is also why it is problematic to count any kind of Communist movement as a version of populism. After evoking the possibility that the point of shared identification that holds together a crowd can shift from the person of the leader to an impersonal idea, Freud goes on: "This abstraction, again, may be more or less completely embodied in the figure of what we may call a secondary leader, and interesting varieties would arise from the relation between the idea and the leader." [8] Does this not hold especially for the Stalinist leader who, in contrast to the Fascist leader, is a "secondary leader," the embodiment-instrument of the Communist Idea? This is the reason Communist movements and regimes cannot be categorized as populist.

Linked to this are some further weaknesses of Laclau's analysis. The smallest unit of his analysis of populism is the category of "social demand" (in the double meaning of the term: a request and a claim). The strategic reason of choosing this term is clear: the subject of demand is constituted through raising this demand; the "people" thus constitutes itself through equivalential chain of demands, it is the performative result of raising these demands, not a preexisting group. However, the term "demand" involves a whole theatrical scene in which a subject is addressing his demand to an Other presupposed to be able to meet it. Does the proper revolutionary/emancipatory political act not move beyond this horizon of demands? The revolutionary subject no longer operates at the level of demanding something from those in power - he wants to destroy them...

Furthermore, Laclau calls such an elementary demand, prior to its eventual enchainment into a series of equivalences, "democratic"; as he explains it, he resorts to this slightly idiosyncratic use to signal that a demand that still functions WITHIN the socio-political system, i.e., a demand that is met as a particular demand, so that it is not frustrated and, because of this frustration, forced to inscribe itself into an antagonistic series of equivalences. Although he emphasizes how, in a "normal" institutionalized political space, there are, of course, multiple conflicts, but these conflicts are dealt with one by one, without setting in motion any transversal alliances/antagonisms, Laclau is well aware that chains of equivalences can also form themselves within an institutionalized democratic space: recall how, in the UK under John Major's Conservative leadership in the late 1980s, the figure of the "unemployed single mother" was elevated into the universal symbol of what is wrong with the old Welfare State system - all "social evils" were somehow reduced to this figure (state budget crisis? because too much money is spend on supporting these mothers and their children; juvenile delinquency? because single mother do not exert enough authority to provide the proper educational discipline; etc.).

What Laclau neglected to emphasize is not only the uniqueness of democracy with regard to his basic conceptual opposition between the logic of differences (society as a global regulated system) and the logic of equivalences (the social space as split into two antagonistic camps which equalize their inner differences), but also the full inner entwinement of these two logics. The first thing to note here is how, only in a democratic political system, the antagonistic logic of equivalences is inscribed into the very political edifice, as its basic structural feature - it seems that Chantal Mouffe's work [9] is here more pertinent, in its heroic attempt to bring together democracy and the spirit of agonistic struggle, rejecting both extremes: on the one side, the celebration of heroic struggle-confrontation that suspends democracy and its rules (Nietzsche, Heidegger, Schmitt); on the other side, the evacuation of true struggle out of the democratic space, so that all that remains is the anemic rule-regulated competition (Habermas) - here, Mouffe is right to point out how violence returns with a vengeance in the exclusion of those that do not fit the rules of unconstrained communication... However, the main threat to democracy in today's democratic countries resides in none of these two extremes, but in the death of the political through the "commodification" of politics. What is at stake here is not primarily the way politicians are packed and sold as merchandises at elections; a much deeper problem is that elections themselves are conceived along the lines of buying a commodity (power, in this case): they involve a competition among different merchandises-parties, and our votes are like money which we give to buy the government we want... what gets lost in such a view of politics as another service we buy is politics as a shared public debate of issues and decisions that concern us all.

Democracy, it may seem, thus not only can include antagonism, it is the only political form that solicits and presupposes it, that INSTITUTIONALIZES it - what other political systems perceive as a threat (the lack of a "natural" pretender to power), democracy elevates into a "normal" positive condition of its functioning: the place of power is empty, there is no natural claimant for it, polemos/struggle is irreducible, and every positive government must be fought out, gained through polemos... This why Laclau's critical remark about Lefort misses the point: "/F/or Lefort, the place of power in democracies is empty. For me, the question poses itself differently: it is a question of producing emptiness out of the operation of hegemonic logic. For me, emptiness is a type of identity, not a structural location." [10] The two emptinesses are simply not comparable: the emptiness of 'people' is the emptiness of the hegemonic signifier which totalizes the chain of equivalences, i.e., whose particular content is 'transubstantiated' into an embodiment of the social Whole, while the emptiness of the place of power is a distance which makes every empirical bearer of power 'deficient,' contingent and temporary.

The further feature neglected by Laclau is the fundamental paradox of the authoritarian Fascism, which almost symmetrically inverts what Mouffe calls the "democratic paradox": if the wager of (institutionalized) democracy is to integrate the antagonistic struggle itself into the institutional/differential space, transforming it into regulated agonism, Fascism proceeds in the opposite direction. While Fascism, in its mode of activity, brings the antagonistic logic to its extreme (talking about the "struggle to death" between itself and its enemies, and always maintaining - if not realizing - a minimum of an extra-institutional threat of violence, of a "direct pressure of the people" by-passing the complex legal-institutional channels), it posits as its political goal precisely the opposite, an extremely ordered hierarchic social body (no wonder Fascism always relies on organicist-corporatist metaphors). This contrast can be nicely rendered in the terms of the Lacanian opposition between the "subject of enunciation" and the "subject of the enunciated (content)": while democracy admits antagonistic struggle as its goal (in Lacanese: as its enunciated, its content), its procedure is regulated-systemic; Fascism, on the contrary, tries to impose the goal of hierarchically structured harmony through the means of an unbridled antagonism.

The conclusion to be drawn is that populism (the way we supplemented Laclau's definition of it) is not the only mode of existence of the excess of antagonism over the institutional-democratic frame of regulated agonistic struggle: not only the (now defunct) Communist revolutionary organizations, but also the wide phenomena of non-institutionalized social and political protest, from the student movements in the 1968 period to later anti-war protests and the more recent anti-globalization movement, cannot be properly called "populist." Exemplary is here the case of the anti-segregation movement in the US of late 1950s and early 1960s, epitomized by the name of Martin Luther King: although it endeavors to articulate a demand that was not properly met within the existing democratic institutions, it cannot be called populist in any meaningful sense of the term - the way it led the struggle and constituted its opponent was simply not "populist"... (A more general remark should be made here about the One-Issue popular movements (for example, the "tax revolts" in the US): although they function in a populist way, mobilizing the people around a demand which is not met by the democratic institutions, it does NOT seem to rely on a complex chain of equivalences, but remains focused on one singular demand.)

...to the Deadlock of Political Engagements

In 2004, George Lakoff, a post-Chomskyian philosopher of language previously known mostly as a "metaphor analyst," all of a sudden exploded into popularity in the US Democratic Party by offering an elementary, "easy-to-use," account of what was wrong with the Democratic politics and how should this politics be redressed to resuscitate its mobilizing force. The interest of his project for us resides in the fact that it shares as series of superficial features with Laclau's edifice: the move from political struggle as a conflict of agents who follow rational calculations about their self-interests, to a more "open" vision of political struggle as a conflict of passions sustained by an irreducibly metaphorical rhetoric. (For Laclau, metaphor is inscribed into the very heart of the struggle for ideologico-political hegemony: the fundamental operation of hegemony, the elevation of some particular content into a direct embodiment of universality, literally enacts a metaphoric short-circuit.).

One should remember here that Lakoff is a true anti-Chomsky who believes in telling all the facts and in the power of clear reasoning (no wonder there is professional and personal animosity between him and Chomsky, his ex-teacher). Lakoff opts for a strangely anti-Enlightenment vision which turns around the so-called "rationalist-materialist paradigm" (RAM for short): people don't follow rational calculations about their self-interests, they think in subconscious narrative "frames" organized around central metaphors; their beliefs are sustained by such frames, not by rational argumentation... we are back at the old opposition of myth versus logos, rhetoric versus reasoning, metaphor versus strict conceptual meaning. Lakoff's concrete analyses oscillate between amusing apercus on how everyday rhetorical phrases are bundled with unspoken assumptions (say, in the 2004 elections, the media as a rule referred to Kerry's home building as his "estate," and to Bush's building as "ranch") and rather primitive pseudo-Freudian decipherings - say, apropos 9/11, he wrote: "Towers are symbols of phallic power, and their collapse reinforces the idea of loss of power. /.../ the planes penetrating the towers with a plume of heat, and the Pentagon, a vaginal image from the air, penetrated by the plane as missile." [11] Lakoff reaches here the highpoint of the absurdity of his pseudo-Freudian symbolistic reading, evoking the weird logic of a phallus (plane) penetrating a phallus (the Twin Towers). In view of this naïve Freudism, it should not surprise us that, for Lakoff, the central organizing metaphors go back to warring visions of "idealized family structure": conservatives see the nation as a family based on the "strict father model," in which the head of the household orders his wife around and beats his children, with the goal of fashioning them into disciplined and self-reliant adults, while progressives prefer a "nurturing parents model," in which two mutually supportive parents nurture their children. (As it was already noted, both the "strict father" and the "nurturing parents" model are family models, as if it is impossible to detach politics from its familial fantasmatic libidinal roots.)

Lakoff's conclusion is that, instead of abhorring the passionate metaphoric language on behalf of the couple of rational argumentation and abstract moralizing, the Left should accept the battle at this terrain and learn to offer more seductive frames. [12] Near the end of his Don't Think of an Elephant!, Lakoff writes that conservatives "have figured out their own values, principles, and directions, and have gotten them out in the public mind so effectively over the past thirty years that they can evoke them all in a ten-word philosophy: Strong Defense, Free Markets, Lower Taxes, Smaller Government, Family Values." He proposes a similar ten-word philosophy for liberals: "Stronger America, Broad Prosperity, Better Future, Effective Government, Mutual Responsibility." [13] The weakness of this alternative was also already noted: while the conservative formula presents what appears as clear choices that demand from us adopting strong and divisive positions (strong defense against the proponents of disarmament; free markets against state regulation; lower taxes against tax-and-spend social programs...), the liberal formula consists of general feel-good phrases nobody is against (who IS against prosperity, better future, effective government?) - what only happens is that violent-passionate engaging rhetorics is replaced by shallow sentimental rhetorics. What is so strange here is that Lakoff, a refined linguist, specialist in semantics, can miss this obvious weakness of his positive formula, the weakness which can be precisely formulated in Laclau's terms: it lacks the antagonistic charge of designating a clear enemy, which is the sine qua non of every effective mobilizing political formula.

So we are far from insinuating that Lakoff proposes a "Laclauian" politics: on the contrary, it is precisely the reference to Laclau that allows us to see Lakoff's limitations, beneath the superficial similarities. Accordong to Senator Durbin, one of Lakoff's supporters in the Democratic nomenklatura, he "doesn't ask us to change our views or change our philosophy. He tells us that we have to recommunicate." The Republicans have triumphed "by repackaging old ideas in all new wrapping." The struggle is thus reduced to "mere rhetorics": the ideas (and the "real" politics) remain the same as they were, it is only a question of how to package and sell one's ideas (or, to put it in more "human" terms, of establishing better communication). Insofar as he endorses such a reading of his thesis, Lakoff doesn't take seriously enough HIS OWN emphasis on the force of metaphoric frame, reducing it to secondary packaging - in clear contrast to Laclau for whom the rhetorics is operative in the very heart of the ideologico-political process, in establishing the hegemonic articulation - although, sometimes, Laclau does seem to succumb to the temptation of reducing the troubles of today's Left to a "mere rhetorical" failure, as in the following passage:

/.../ the Right and the Left are not fighting at the same level. On the one hand, there is an attempt by the Right to articulate various problems that people have into some kind of political imaginary, and on the other hand, there is a retreat by the Left into a purely moral discourse which doesn't enter into the hegemonic game. /.../ The main difficulty of the Left is that the fight today does not take place at that level of the political imaginary. And it relies on a rationalist discourse about rights, conceived in a purely abstract way without entering that hegemonic field, and without that engagement there is no possibility of a progressive political alternative. [14]

So the main problem of the Left is its inability to propose a passionate global vision of change... is it really that simple? Is the solution for the Left to abandon the "purely moral" rationalist discourse and to propose a more engaged vision addressing the political imaginary, a vision that could compete with the neo-conservative projects and also with the past Leftist visions? Is this diagnosis not similar to the proverbial answer of a doctor to the worried patient: "What you need is a good doctor's advice!"? What about asking the elementary question: what, concretely, would that new Leftist vision be, with regard to its content? Is not the decline of the traditional Left, its retreat into the moral rationalist discourse which no longer enters the hegemonic game, conditioned by the big changes in global economy in the last decades - so where IS a better Leftist global solution to our present predicament? Whatever one holds against the "Third Way," it at least tried to propose a vision which does take into account these changes. No wonder that, as we approach concrete political analysis, confusion starts to reign - in a recent interview, Ernesto Laclau made a weird accusation against me, imputing me that I "claimed that the problem with the United States is that they act as a global power and do not think as a global power, but only in the terms of their own interests. The solution is then that they should think and act as a global power, that they should assume their role of world policeman. For somebody like Zizek, who comes from the Hegelian tradition, to say this means that the United States tend to be the universal class. /.../ The function that Hegel attributes to State and Marx to proletariat, Zizek now attributes to the highpoint of American imperialism. There is no base for thinking that things will be in this way. I do not believe that any progressive cause, in any part of the world, could think in these terms." [15]

I quote this passage not to dwell on its ridiculously-malicious interpretive twist: of course I never pleaded for the US to be the universal class: when I stated that the US "act globally and think locally," my point was not that, "then /entonces/," they should both think and act globally, it was simply that this gap between universality and particularity is structurally necessary, which is why the US are in long term digging their own grave... and, incidentally, therein resides my Hegelianism: the "motor" of the historico-dialectical process is precisely the gap between "acting" and "thinking": people do not do what they think they are doing, while thought is formally universal, the act as such is "particularizing," which is why, for Hegel precisely, there is no self-transparent historical subject, all acting social subjects are always and by definition caught in the "cunning of reason," their fulfill their role through the very failure to accomplish their intended task. Consequently, the gap we are dealing with here is also not simply the gap between the universal form of thought and the particular interests that "effectively" sustain our acts legitimized by the universal thought: the true Hegelian insight is that the very universal form as such, in its opposition to the particular content that it excludes, "particularizes" itself, turns into its opposite, so there is no need to look for some particular "pathological" content that smears the pure universality.

The reason I quote this passage is to make a precise theoretical point about the status of the universality: we are dealing here with two opposed logics of universality to be strictly distinguished. On the one hand, there is the state bureaucracy as the universal class of a society (or, in a larger scope, the US as the world policeman, the universal enforcer and guarantee of human rights and democracy), the direct agent of the global Order; on the other hand, there is the "surnumerary" universality, the universality embodied in the element which sticks out of the existing Order, which, while internal to it, has no proper place within it (what Jacques Rancière calls the "part of no-part"). Not only are the two not the same, [16] but the struggle is ultimately the struggle between these two universalities, not simply between the particular elements of the universality: not just about which particular content will "hegemonize" the empty form of universality, but a struggle between two exclusive FORMS of universality themselves.

This is why Laclau misses the point when he opposes "working class" and "people" along the axis of conceptual content versus the effect of radical nomination: [17] "working class" designates a preexisting social group, characterized by its substantial content, while "people" emerges as a unified agent through the very act of nomination - there is nothing in the heterogeneity of demands that predisposes them to be unified in "people." However, Marx distinguishes between "working class" and "proletariat": "working class" effectively is a particular social group, while "proletariat" designates a subjective position. (Which is why Laclau's critical debate about Marx's opposition between proletariat and lumpenproletariat also misses the point: their distinction is not the one between an objective social group and a non-group, a remainder-excess with no proper place within the social edifice, but a distinction between two modes of this remainder-excess which generate two different subjective positions. The implication of Marx's analysis is that, paradoxically, although lumpenproletariat seems more radically "displaced" with regard to the social body than proletariat, it effectively fits much more smoothly the social edifice: to refer to the Kantian distinction between negative and infinite judgment, lumpenproletariat is not truly a non-group (the immanent negation of a group, a group which is a non-group), but not a group, and its exclusion from all strata not only consolidates the identity of other groups, but makes it a free-floating element which can be used by any strata or class - it can be the radicalizing "carnivalesque" element of the workers' struggle, pushing them from compromising moderate strategies to an open confrontation, or the element which is used by the ruling class to degenerate from within the opposition to its rule (the long tradition of the criminal mob serving those in power). The working class, on the contrary, is a group which is in itself, AS A GROUP within the social edifice, a non-group, i.e., whose position is in itself "contradictory": they are a productive force, society (and those in power) need them in order to reproduce themselves and their rule, but, nonetheless, they cannot find a "proper place" for them...)

This brings us to Laclau's basic reproach to the Marxian "critique of political economy (CPE)": it is a positive "ontic" science which delimits a part of substantial social reality, so that any direct grounding of emancipatory politics in CPE (or, in other words, any privilege given to class struggle) reduces the political to an epiphenomenon embedded in substantial reality... Such a view misses what Derrida called the "spectral" dimension of Marx's CPE: far from offering the ontology of a determinate social domain, the CPE demonstrates how this ontology is always supplemented by "heauntology," science on ghosts - what Marx calls the "metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties" of the universe of commodities. This strange "spirit/ghost" resides in the very heart of economic reality, which is why, with the CPE, the circle of Marx's critique is closed: Marx's initial thesis, in his early works, was that the critique of religion is the starting point of every critique; from here, he proceeded to the critique of state and politics, and, finally, to the CPE which gives us the insight into the most basic mechanism of social reproduction; however, at this final point, the movement becomes circular and returns to its starting point, i.e., what we discover in the very heard of this "hard economic reality" is again the theological dimension. When Marx describes the mad self-enhancing circulation of the capital, whose solipsistic path of self-fecundation reaches its apogee in today's meta-reflexive speculations on futures, it is far too simplistic to claim that the specter of this self-engendering monster that pursues its path disregarding any human or environmental concern is an ideological abstraction, and that one should never forget that, behind this abstraction, there are real people and natural objects on whose productive capacities and resources the capital's circulation is based and on which it feeds itself like a gigantic parasite. The problem is that this "abstraction" is not only in our (financial speculator's) misperception of social reality, but that it is "real" in the precise sense of determining the structure of the very material social processes: the fate of whole strata of population and sometimes of whole countries can be decided by the "solipsistic" speculative dance of the Capital, which pursues its goal of profitability in a blessed indifference with regard to how its movement will affect social reality. Therein resides the fundamental systemic violence of capitalism, much more uncanny than the direct pre-capitalist socio-ideological violence: this violence is no longer attributable to concrete individuals and their "evil" intentions, but purely "objective", systemic, anonymous. Here we encounter the Lacanian difference between reality and the Real: "reality" is the social reality of the actual people involved in interaction and in the productive processes, while the Real is the inexorable "abstract" spectral logic of the Capital that determines what goes on in social reality.

Furthermore, let us not forget what the very term CPE indicates: economy is in itself political, so that one cannot reduce political struggle to a mere epiphenomenon or secondary effect of a more "basic" economic social process. This is what "class struggle" is for Marx: the presence of the political in the very heart of economy, which is why it is significant that the manuscript of Capital III breaks precisely when Marx would have to deal directly with class struggle - this break is not simply a lack, the signal of a failure, but, rather, the signal that the line of though bends back into itself, turns to a dimension which was always-already here. The "political" class struggle permeates the entire analysis from the very beginning: the categories of political economy (say, the "value" of the commodity "working force," or the degree of profit) are not objective socio-economic data, but data which always signal the outcome of a "political" struggle. (And, incidentally, in dealing with the Real, Laclau seems to oscillate between the formal notion of Real as antagonism and the more "empirical" notion of the Real as that which cannot be reduced to a formal opposition:

/.../ the opposition A-B will never fully become A - not A. The 'B-ness' of the B will be ultimately non-dialectizable. The 'people' will always be something more than the pure opposite of power. There is a Real of the 'people' which resists symbolic integration. [18]

The crucial question, of course, is: which, exactly, is the character of this excess of "people" over being the "pure opposite of power," i.e., WHAT in 'people' resists symbolic integration? Is it simply the wealth of its (empirical or other) determinations? If this is the case, then we are NOT dealing with a Real that resists symbolic integration, because the Real, in this case, is precisely the antagonism A - non-A, so that "that which is in B more than non-A" is not the Real in B but B's symbolic determinations.)

"Capitalism" is thus not merely a category which delimitates a positive social sphere, but a formal-transcendental matrix that structures the entire social space - literally, a MODE of production. Its strength resides in its very weakness: it is pushed into constant dynamics, into a kind of permanent emergency state, in order to avoid confronting its basic antagonism, its structural imbalance. As such, it is ontologically "open": it reproduces itself through its permanent self-overcoming; it is as it were indebted to its own future, borrowing from it and forever postponing the day of reckoning.

The Turkish March

The general conclusion is that, although the topic of populism is emerging as crucial in today's political scenery, it cannot be used as the ground for the renewal of the emancipatory politics. The first thing to note is that today's populism is different from the traditional version - what distinguishes it is the opponent against which it mobilizes the people: the rise of "post-politics," the growing reduction of politics proper to the rational administration of the conflicting interests. In the highly developed countries of the US and Western Europe, at least, "populism" is emerging as the inherent shadowy double of the institutionalized post-politics, one is almost tempted to say: as its supplement in the Derridean sense, as the arena in which political demands that do not fit the institutionalized space can be articulated. In this sense, there is a constitutive "mystification" that pertains to populism: its basic gesture is to refuse to confront the complexity of the situation, to reduce it to a clear struggle with a pseudo-concrete "enemy" figure (from "Brussels bureaucracy" to illegal immigrants). "Populism" is thus by definition a negative phenomenon, a phenomenon grounded in a refusal, even an implicit admission of impotence. We all know the old joke about a guy looking for his lost key under the street light; when asked where did he lost it, he admits that it was in a dark corner behind; so why is he looking for it here, under the light? Because the visibility is much better here... there is always something of this trick in populism. So not only is populism not the area within which today's emancipatory projects should inscribe themselves - one should even go a step further and propose that the main task of today's emancipatory politics, its life-and-death problem, is to find a form of political mobilization that, while (like populism) critical of institutionalized politics, will AVOID the populist temptation.

Where, then, does all this leave us with regard to Europe's imbroglio? The French voters were not given a clear symmetrical choice, since the very terms of the choice privileged the YES: the elite proposed to the people a choice which was effectively no choice at all - people were called to ratify the inevitable, the result of enlightened expertise. The media and the political elite presented the choice as the one between knowledge and ignorance, between expertise and ideology, between post-political administration and old political passions of the Left and the Right. [19] The NO was thus dismissed as a short-sighted reaction not aware of its own consequences: a murky reaction of fear of the emerging new postindustrial global order, an instinct to stick to and protect the comfortable Welfare State traditions - a gesture of refusal lacking any positive alternative program. No wonder the only political parties whose official stance was No were the parties at the opposite extreme of the political spectrum, le Pen's Front National at the Right and the Communists and Trotskytes at the Left.

However, even if there is an element of truth in all this, the very fact that the NO was not sustained by a coherent alternative political vision is the strongest possible condemnation of the political and mediatic elite: a monument to their inability to articulate, to translate into a political vision, the people's longings and dissatisfactions. Instead, in their reaction to the NO, they treated the people as retarded pupils who did not get the lesson of the experts: their self-criticism was the one of the teacher who admits that he failed to educate properly his pupils. What the advocates of this "communication" thesis (the French and Dutch NO means that the Enlightened elite failed to communicate properly with the masses) fail to see is that, on the contrary, the NO in question was a perfect example of communication in which, as Lacan put it, the speaker gets from the addressee its own message in its inverted, i.e., true, form: the enlightened European bureaucrats got back from their voters the shallowness of their own message to them in its true form. The project of European Union that was rejected by France and Netherlands stood for a kind of cheap trick, as if Europe can redeem itself and beat its competitors by simply combining the best of both worlds: by beating the US, China and Japan in scientific-technological modernization through keeping alive its cultural traditions. One should insist here that, if Europe is to redeem itself, it should, on the contrary, be ready to take the risk of losing (in the sense of radically questioning) both: to dispel the fetish of scientific-technological progress AND to get rid of relying on the superiority of its cultural heritage.

So, although the choice was not the choice between two political options, it was also not the choice between the enlightened vision of a modern Europe, ready to fit the new global order, and old confused political passions. When commentators described the NO as a message of confused fear, they were wrong. The main fear we are dealing with here is the fear the NO itself provoked in the new European political elite, the fear that people will no longer so easily buy their "post-political" vision. For all others, the NO is a message and expression of hope: hope that POLITICS is still alive and possible, that the debate about what the new Europe shall and should be is still open. This is why we, from the Left, should reject the sneering insinuation by the liberals that, in our NO, we find ourselves with strange neo-Fascist bed-fellows. What the new populist Right and the Left share is just one thing: the awareness that POLITICS proper is still alive.

There WAS a positive choice in the NO: the choice of the choice itself. The rejection of the blackmail by the new elite which offers us only the choice to confirm their expert knowledge or to display one's "irrational" immaturity. The NO is the positive decision to start a properly POLITICAL debate about what kind of Europe we really want. Late in his life, Freud asked the famous question Was will das Weib?, What does the woman want?, admitting his perplexity when faced with the enigma of the feminine sexuality. Does the imbroglio with the European constitution not bear witness to the same puzzlement: which Europe do we want?

The unofficial anthem of the European Union, heard at numerous political, cultural and sportive public events, is the "Ode to Joy" melody from the last movement of Beethoven 9th symphony, a true "empty signifier" that can stand for anything. In France, it was elevated by Romain Rolland into the a humanist ode to the brotherhood of all people ("the Marseillaise of humanity"); in 1938, it was performed as the highpoint of Reichsmusiktage and later for Hitler's birthday; in China of the Cultural Revolution, in the atmosphere of rejecting European classics, it was redeemed as a piece of progressive class struggle, while in today's Japan, it achieved a cult status, being woven into the very social fabric with its alleged message of "joy through suffering"; till 1970s, i.e., during the time when both West and East German olympic teams had to perform together, as one German team, the anthem played for the German gold medal was the Joy song, and, simultaneously, the Rhodesian white supremacist regime of Ian Smith which proclaimed independence in the late 1960s in order to maintain apartheid also proclaimed the same song its national anthem. Even Abimael Guzman, the (now imprisoned) leader of the Sendero Luminoso, when asked what music he loves, mentioned the forth movement of Beethoven's Ninth. So we can easily imagine a fictional performance at which all the sworn enemies, from Hitler to Stalin, from Bush to Saddam, for a moment forget their adversities and participate in the same magic moment of ecstatic brotherhood... [20]

However, before we dismiss the fourth movement as a piece "destroyed through social usage," let us note some peculiarities of its structure. In the middle of the movement, after we hear the main melody (the Joy theme) in three orchestral and three vocal variations, at this first climax, something unexpected happens which bothers critics for the last 180 years after the first performance: at bar 331, the tone changes totally, and, instead of the solemn hymnic progression, the same "Joy" theme is repeated in the marcia Turca ("Turkish march") style, borrowed from the military music for wind and percussion instruments that 18th century European armies adopted from the Turkish Janissaries - the mode is here that of a carnivalesque popular parade, a mocking spectacle... [21] and after this point, everything goes wrong, the simple solemn dignity of the first part of the movement is never recovered: after this "Turkish" part and in a clear counter-movement to it, in a kind of retreat into the innermost religiosity, the choral-like music (dismissed by some critics as a "Gregorian fossil") tries to render the ethereal image of millions of people who kneal down embraced, contemplating in awe the distant sky and searching for the loving paternal God who must dwell above the canopy of stars (ueberm Sternezelt muss ein lieber Vater wohnen); however, the music as it were gets stuck when the word muss, first rendered by the basses, is repeated by the tenors and altos, and finally by the sopranos, as if this repeated conjuring presents a desperate attempt to convince us (and itself) of what it knows is not true, making the line "a loving father must dwell" into a desperate act if beseeching, and thus attesting to the fact that there is nothing beyond the canopy of stars, no loving father to protect us and to guarantee our brotherhood. After this, a return to a more celebratory mood is tempted in the guise of the double fugue which cannot but sound false in its excessively artificial brilliance, a fake synthesis if there ever was one, a desperate attempt to cover up the void of the ABSENT God revealed in the previous section. But the final cadenza is the strangest of them all, sounding not at all as Beethoven but more like a puffed up version of the finale of Mozart's Abduction from Seraglio, combining the "Turkish" elements with the fast rococo spectacle. (And let us not forget the lesson of this Mozart's opera: the figure of the oriental despot is presented there as a true enlightened Master.) The finale is thus a weird mixture of Orientalism and regression into the late 18th century classicism, a double retreat from the historical present, a silent admission of the purely fantasmatic character of the Joy of the all-encompassing brotherhood. If there ever was a music that literally "deconstructs itself," this is it: the contrast between the highly ordered linear progression of the first part of the movement and the precipituous, heterogeneous and inconsistent, character of the second part cannot be stronger - no wonder that already in 1826, 2 years after the first performance, some reviewers described the finale as "a festival of hatred towards all that can be called human joy. With gigantic strength the perilous hoard emerges, tearing hearts asunder and darkening the divine spark of gods with noisy, monstrous mocking." [22] (Of course, these lines are not meant as a criticism of Beethoven - quite on the contrary, in an Adornian mode, one should discern in this failure of the fourth movement Beethoven's artistic integrity: the truthful indexation of the failure of the very Enlightenment project of universal brotherhood.)

Beethoven's Ninth is thus full of what Nicholas Cook called "unconsummated symbols: [23] elements which are in excess of the global meaning of the work (or of the movement in which they occur), which do not fit this meaning, although it is not clear what additional meaning they bring. Cook lists the "funeral march" at bar 513 of the first movement, the abrupt ending of the second movement, the military tones in the third movement, the so-called "horror fanfares," the Turkish march, and many other moments in the fourth movement - all these elements "vibrate with an implied significance that overflows the musical scenario." [24] It is not simply that their meaning should be uncovered through an attentive interpretation - the very relation between texture and meaning is inverted here: if the predominant "musical scenario" seems to set into music a clear pre-established meaning (the celebration of Joy, the universal brotherhood...), here the meaning is not given in advance, but seems to float in some kind of virtual indeterminacy - it is as if we know THAT there is (or, rather, HAS to be) some meaning, without every being able to establish WHAT this meaning is.

What, then, is the solution? The only radical solution is to shift the entire perspective and to render problematic the very first part of the fourth movement: things do not really go wrong only at the bar 331, with the entrance of the marcia Turca, they go wrong from the very beginning - one should accept that there is something of an insipid fake in the very Ode to Joy, so that the chaos the enters after the bar 331 is a kind of the "return of the repressed," a symptom of what was wrong from the very beginning. What if we domesticated too much the Ode to Joy, what if we got all too used to it as a symbol of joyful brotherhood? What if we should confront it anew, reject it in what is false in it? Many of today's listeners cannot but be struck by the empty pompous character and pretentiousness of the Ode, by its somewhat ridiculous solemnity - recall what we see if we watch its performance on TV: fat, self-complacent, well-dressed singers with strained veins, making a great effort, accompanied by ridiculous waving of hands, to get their sublime message through as loudly as possible... what if these listeners are simply right? What if the true obscenity is what takes place BEFORE the marcia Turca, not after it? What if we shift the entire perspective and perceive the marcia as a return to everyday normality that cuts short the display of preposterous portentousness and thus brings us back to earth, as if saying "you want the celebrate the brotherhood of men? Here they are, the REAL humanity..."?

And does the same not hold for Europe today? After inviting millions, from the highest to the lowest (worm) to embrace, the second strophe ominously ends: "But he who cannot rejoice, let him steal weeping away. /Und wer's nie gekonnt, der stehle weinend sich aus dem Bund./" The irony of Beethoven's Ode to Joy as the unofficial European anthem is, of course, that the main cause of today's crisis of the Union is precisely Turkey: according to most of the polls, the main reason of those who voted NO at the last referendums in France and Netherlands was their opposition to Turkish membership. The NO can be grounded in rightist-populist terms (no to the Turkish threat to our culture, no to the Turkish cheap immigrant labor), or in the liberal-multiculturalist terms (Turkey should not be allowed in because, in its treatment of the Kurds, it doesn't display enough respect for human rights). And the opposite view, the YES, is as false as Beethoven's final cadenza... So, should Turkey be allowed into the Union or should it be let to "steal itself weeping out of the union /Bund/"? Can Europe survive the "Turkish march"? And, as in the finale of Beethoven's Ninth, what if the true problem is not Turkey, but the basic melody itself, the song of European unity as it is played to us from the Brussels postpolitical technocratic elite? What we need is a totally new main melody, a new definition of Europe itself. The problem of Turkey, the perplexity of European Union with regard to what to do with Turkey, is not about Turkey as such, but the confusion about what is Europe itself.

What, then, is Europe's predicament today? Europe lies in the great pincers between America on the one side and China on the other. America and China, seen metaphysically, are both the same: the same hopeless frenzy of unchained technology and of the rootless organization of the average man. When the farthest corner of the globe has been conquered technically and can be exploited economically; when any incident you like, in any place you like, at any time you like, becomes accessible as fast as you like; when, through the TV "live coverage," you can simultaneously "experience" a battle in Iraqi desert and an opera performance in Beijing; when, in a global digital network, time is nothing but speed, instantaneity, and simultaneity; when a winner in reality TV-show counts as the great man of a people; then, yes, there still looms like a specter over all this uproar the question: what for? - where to? - and what then? [25]

There is thus a need, among us, Europeans, for what Heidegger called Auseinandersetzung (interpretive confrontation) with others as well as with Europe's own past in all its scope, from its Ancient and Judeo-Christian roots to the recently deceased Welfare-State idea. Europe is today split between the so-called Anglo-Saxon model - accept the "modernization" (adaptation to the rules of the new global order) - and the French-German model - save as much as possible of the "old European" welfare-state. Although opposed, these two options are the two side of the same coin, and our true is neither to return to any idealized form of the past - these models are clearly exhausted -, nor to convince Europeans that, if we are to survive as a world power, we should as fast as possible accommodate ourselves to the recent trends of globalization. Nor is the task what is arguably the worst option, the search for a "creative synthesis" between European traditions of globalization, with the aim to get something one is tempted to call "globalization with a European face."

Every crisis is in itself an instigation for a new beginning; every collapse of short-term strategic and pragmatic measures (for financial reorganization of the Union, etc.) a blessing in disguise, an opportunity to rethink the very foundations. What we need is a retrieval-through-repetition (Wieder-Holung): through a critical confrontation with the entire European tradition, one should repeat the question "What is Europe?", or, rather, "What does it mean for us to be Europeans?", and thus formulate a new inception. The task is difficult, it compels us to take a great risk of stepping into the unknown - yet its only alternative is slow decay, the gradual transformation of Europe into what Greece was for the mature Roman Empire, a destination for nostalgic cultural tourism with no effective relevance. [26]

And - a further point apropos which we should risk the hypothesis that Heidegger was right, although not in the sense he meant it - what if democracy is not the answer to this predicament? In his Notes Towards a Definition of Culture, the great conservative T.S.Eliot remarked that there are moments when the only choice is the one between sectarianism and non-belief, when the only way to keep a religion alive is to perform a sectarian split from its main corpse. This is our only chance today: only by means of a "sectarian split" from the standard European legacy, by cutting ourselves off the decaying corpse of the old Europe, can we keep the renewed European legacy alive. Such a split should render problematic the very premises that we tend to accept as our destiny, as non-negotiable data of our predicament - the phenomenon usually designated as the global New World Order and the need, through "modernization," to accommodate ourselves to it. To put it bluntly, if the emerging New World Order is the non-negotiable frame for all of us, then Europe is lost, so the ONLY solution for Europe is to take the risk and BREAK this spell of our destiny. NOTHING should be accepted as inviolable in this new foundation, neither the need for economic "modernization" nor the most sacred liberal and democratic fetishes.

So although the French and Dutch NO is not sustained by a coherent and detailed alternate vision, it at least clears the space for it, opening up a void which demands to be filled in with new projects - in contrast to the pro-Constitution stance which effectively precludes thinking, presenting us with an administrative-political fait accompli. The message of the French NO to all of us who care for Europe is: no, anonymous experts whose merchandise is sold to us in a brightly-colored liberal-multiculturalist package, will not prevent us from THINKING. It is time for us, citizens of Europe, to become aware that we have to make a properly POLITICAL decision of what we want. No enlightened administrator will do the job for us.

Notes:

[1] Many pro-European commentators favorably opposed the readiness to bear financial sacrifices of the new Eastern European members of the Union to the egotistic intransingent behavior of UK, France, Germany and some other old members - however, one should also bear in mind the hypocrisy of Slovenia and other new Eastern members: they behaved as the latest members of an exclusive club, wanting to be the last allowed to enter. While accusing France of racism, they themselves opposed the entry of Turkey...

[2] See Ernesto Laclau, On Populist Reason, London: Verso 2005.

[3] This distinction is homologous to that, deployed by Michael Walzer, between "thin" and "thick" morality (see Michael Walzer, Thick and Thin, Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press 1994). He gives the example of the big demonstration in the streets pf Prague in 1989 that toppled the Communist regime: most of the banners read simply "Truth," "Justice," or "Freedom," general slogans even the ruling Communist had to agree with - the catch was, of course, in the underlying web of "thick" (specific, determinate) demands (freedom of the press, multiparty elections...) that indicated what the people mean by the simple general slogans. In short, the struggle was not simply for freedom and justice, but for the meaning of these words.

[4] Laclau, op.cit., p. 88.

[5] Laclau, op.cit., p. 90.

[6] Op.cit., p. 98-99.

[7] Many people sympathetic to the Hugo Chavez' regime in Venezuela like to oppose Chavez' flamboyant and sometimes clownish caudillo style to the vast popular movement of the self-organization of the poor and dispossessed that surprisingly brought him back to power after he was deposed in a US-backed coup; the error of this view is to think that one can have the second without the first: the popular movement needs the identificatory figure of a charismatic leader. The limitation of Chavez lies elsewhere, in the very factor which enables him to play his role: the oil money. It is as if oil is always a mixed blessing, if not an outright curse. Because of this supply, he can go on making populist gestures without "paying the full price for them," without really inventing something new at the socio-economic level. Money makes him possible to practice inconsistent politics (populist anti-capitalist measures AND leaving the capitalist edifice basically untouched), of not acting but postponing the act, the radical change. (In spite of his anti-US rhetoric, Chavez takes great care that Venezuelan contracts with the US are regularly met - he effectively is a "Fidel with oil.")

[8] Sigmund Freud, Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, SE, Vol. XVIII, p. 100.

[9] See, especially, Chantal Mouffe, The Democratic Paradox, London: Verso Books 2000.

[10] Laclau, op.cit., p. 166.

[11] George Lakoff, Don't Think of an Elephant, New York: Chelsea Green Publishing Company 2004, p. 27.

[12] To be slightly vicious: there were times when the Left succeeded in such "framing," although not to its honor, as in the late 1930s and 1940s, when it "framed" the USSR in such a way as to in the 1930s...

[13] Lakoff, op.cit., p. 131.

[14] Ernesto Laclau, in Hope, ed. by Mary Zournazi, London: Lawrence and Wishart 2002, p. 145.

[15] Ernesto Laclau, "Las manos en la masa," Radar, 5 June 2005, p. 20.

[16] The best anecdotal example of what is wrong with the first mode of universality is the story, from WWI, about a working class English soldier on leave from the front, enraged by encountering an upper-class youth calmly leading its life of exquisite "Britishness" (tea rituals, etc.), not perturbed by the war at all. When he explodes against the youth: "How can you just sit here and just enjoy it, while we are sacrificing our blood to defend our way of life?", the youth calmly responds: "But I AM the way of life you are defending there in the trenches!"

[17] See Laclau, On Populist Reason, p. 183.

[18] Laclau, op.cit., p. 152.

[19] The limitation of post-politics is best exemplified not only by the success of rightist populism, but by the UK elections of 2005: in spite of the growing unpopularity of Tony Blair (he was is regularly voted the most unpopular person in the UK), there is no way for this discontent with Blair to find a politically effective expression; such a frustration can only foment dangerous extra-parliamentary explosions.

[20] See Nicholas Cook, Beethoven: Symphony No. 9, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2003.

[21] Some critics even compare the "absurd grunts" of the bassoons and bass drum that accompany the beginning of the marcia Turca to farts - see Cook, op.cit., p. 103. The history of recognizing in a musical piece echoes of common obscenities is long and interesting - see what, in 1881, Eduard Hanslick wrote about Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto: "The finale transports us to the brutal and wretched jollity of a Russian festival. We see the savage, vulgar faces, hear obscene curses and smell the vodka... Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto brings us face to face with a hideous notion: that there may be music whose stink we can hear."(Quoted from Classic fm, October 2005, p. 68) The spontaneous analytical answer to this is, obviously, that Hanslick is here brought face to face with HIS OWN repressed hideous fantasies...

[22] Lines attributed to Gottfried Frank; quoted from Cook, op.cit., p. 93.

[23] Cook, op.cit., p. 103.

[24] Maynard Solomon, quoted in Cook, op.cit., p. 93.

[25] Everybody who is minimally acquainted with Heidegger's thought will, of course, easily recognize in this paragraph an ironic paraphrase of the well-known passage from Martin Heidegger, Introduction to Metaphysics, New Haven: Yale University Press 2000, p. 28-29.

[26]In March 2005, Pentagon has released the summary of a top secret document, which sketches America's agenda for global military domination. It calls for a more "proactive" approach to warfare, beyond the weaker notion of "preemptive" and defensive actions. It focuses on four core tasks: to build partnerships with failing states to defeat internal terrorist threats; to defend the homeland, including offensive strikes against terrorist groups planning attacks; to influence the choices of countries at a strategic crossroads, such as China and Russia; and to prevent the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction by hostile states and terrorist groups. Will Europe accept this, satisfied of the role of anemic Greece under the domination of the powerful Roman empire.

Slavoj Zizek's Bibliography

Slavoj Zizek's Chronology

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