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Frans_Jozef
Thursday, January 20th, 2005, 02:14 AM
STIRNER AND FOUCAULT:

TOWARD A POST-KANTIAN FREEDOM

Saul Newman





Max Stirner and Michel Foucault are two thinkers not often examined together. However, it has been suggested that the long-ignored Stirner may be seen as a precursor to contemporary poststructuralist thought.[1] (http://www.postanarki.net/saul5.htm#_ftn1) Indeed, there are many extraordinary parallels between Stirner's critique of Enlightenment humanism, universal rationality, and essential identities, and similar critiques developed by thinkers such as Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze, and others. However, the purpose of this paper is not merely to situate Stirner in the "poststructuralist" tradition, but rather to examine his thinking on the question of freedom, and to explore the connections here with Foucault's own development of the concept in the context of power relations and subjectivity. Broadly speaking, both thinkers see the classical Kantian idea of freedom as deeply problematic, as it involves essentialist and universal presuppositions which are themselves often oppressive. Rather, the concept of freedom must be rethought. It can no longer be seen in solely negative terms, as freedom from constraint, but must involve more positive notions of individual autonomy, particularly the freedom of the individual to construct new modes of subjectivity. Stirner, as we shall see, dispenses with the classical notion of freedom altogether and develops a theory of ownness [Eigenheit] to describe this radical individual autonomy. I suggest in this paper that such a theory of ownness as a non-essentialist form of freedom has many similarities with Foucault's own project of freedom, which involves a critical ethos and an aestheticization of the self. Indeed, Foucault questions the anthropological and universal rational foundations of the discourse of freedom, redefining it in terms of ethical practices.[2] (http://www.postanarki.net/saul5.htm#_ftn2) Both Stirner and Foucault are therefore crucial to the understanding of freedom in a contemporary sense--they show that freedom can no longer be limited by rational absolutes and universal moral categories. They take the understanding of freedom beyond the confines of the Kantian project--grounding it instead in concrete and contingent strategies of the self.

Kant and Universal Freedom

In order to understand how this radical reformulation of freedom can take place, we must first see how the concept of freedom is located in Enlightenment thought. In this paradigm, the exercise of freedom is seen as an inherently rational property. According to Immanuel Kant, for instance, human freedom is presupposed by moral law that is rationally understood. In the Critique of Practical Reason, Kant seeks to establish an absolute rational ground for moral thinking beyond empirical principles. He argues that empirical principles are not an appropriate basis for moral laws because they do not allow their true universality to be established. Rather, morality should be based on a universal law--a categorical imperative--which can be rationally understood. For Kant, then, there is only one categorical imperative, which provides a foundation for all rational human action: "Act only on that maxim whereby thou canst at the same time will that it should become a universal law" (38). In other words, the morality of an action is determined by whether or not it should become a universal law, applicable to all situations. Kant outlines three features of all moral maxims. Firstly, they must have the form of universality. Secondly, they must have a rational end. Thirdly, the maxims that arise from the autonomous legislation of the individual should be in accordance with a certain teleology of ends.

This last point has important consequences for the question of human freedom. For Kant, moral law is based on freedom--the rational individual freely chooses out of a sense of duty to adhere to universal moral maxims. Thus, for moral laws to be rationally grounded they cannot be based on any form of coercion or constraint. They must be freely adhered to as a rational act of the individual. Freedom is seen by Kant as an autonomy of the will--the freedom of the rational individual to follow the dictates of his own reason by adhering to these universal moral laws. This autonomy of the will, then, is for Kant the supreme principle of morality. He defines it as "that property of it by which it is a law to itself (independently of any property of objects of volition)" (59). Freedom is, therefore, the ability of the individual to legislate for him or herself, free from external forces. However, this freedom of self-legislation must be in accordance with universal moral categories. Hence, for Kant, the principle of autonomy is: "Never choose except in such a way that the maxims of the choice are comprehended in the same volition as a universal law" (59). It would appear that there is a central paradox in this idea of freedom--you are free to choose as long as you make the right choice, as long as you choose universal moral maxims. However, for Kant there is no contradiction here because, although adherence to moral laws is a duty and an absolute imperative, it is still a duty that is freely chosen by the individual. Moral laws are rationally established, and because freedom can only be exercised by rational individuals, they will necessarily, yet freely, choose to obey these moral laws. In other words, an action is free only insofar as it conforms to moral and rational imperatives--otherwise it is pathological and therefore "unfree." In this way, freedom and the categorical imperative are not antagonistic but, rather, mutually dependent concepts. Individual autonomy, for Kant, is the very basis of moral laws.

But that the principle of autonomy [...] is the sole principle of morals can be readily shown by mere analysis of concepts of morality; for by this analysis we find that its principle must be a categorical imperative, and that [the imperative] commands neither more nor less than this very autonomy. (59)

The Authoritarian Obverse

Nevertheless, it would seem that there is a hidden authoritarianism in Kant's formulation of freedom. While the individual is free to act in accordance with the dictates of his own reason, he must nevertheless obey universal moral maxims. Kant's moral philosophy is a philosophy of the law. That is why Jacques Lacan was able to diagnose a hidden jouissance--or enjoyment in excess of the law--that attached itself to Kant's categorical imperative. According to Lacan, Sade is the necessary counterpart to Kant--the perverse pleasure that attaches itself to the law becomes, in the Sadeian universe, the law of pleasure.[3] (http://www.postanarki.net/saul5.htm#_ftn3) The thing that binds Kantian freedom to the law is its attachment to an absolute rationality. It is precisely because freedom must be exercised rationally that the individual finds him or herself dutifully obeying rationally founded universal moral laws.

However, both Foucault and Stirner have called into question such universal rational and moral categories, which are central to Enlightenment thought. They contend that absolute categories of morality and rationality sanction various forms of domination and exclusion and deny individual difference. For Foucault, for instance, the centrality of reason in our society is based on the radical and violent exclusion of madness. People are still excluded, incarcerated, and oppressed because of this arbitrary division between reason and unreason, rationality and irrationality. Similarly, the prison system is based on a division between good and evil, innocence and guilt. The incarceration of the prisoner is made possible only through the universalization of moral codes. What must be challenged, for Foucault, are not only the practices of domination that are found in the prison, but also the morality which justifies and rationalizes these practices. The main focus of Foucault's critique of the prison is not necessarily on the domination within, but on the fact that this domination is justified on absolute moral grounds--the moral grounds that Kant seeks to make universal. Foucault wants to disrupt the "serene domination of Good over Evil" central to moral discourses and practices of power ("Intellectuals" 204-17).

It is this moral absolutism that Stirner is also opposed to. He sees morality as a "spook"--an abstract ideal that has been placed beyond the individual and held over him in an oppressive and alienating way. Morality and rationality have become "fixed ideas"--ideas that have come to be seen as sacred and absolute. A fixed idea, according to Stirner, is an abstract concept that governs thought--a discursively closed fiction that denies difference and plurality. They are ideas that have been abstracted from the world and continue to dominate the individual by comparing him or her to an ideal norm that is impossible to attain. In other words, Kant's project of taking moral maxims out of the empirical world and into a transcendental realm where they would apply universally, would be seen by Stirner as a project of alienation and domination. Kant's invocation of absolute obedience to universal moral maxims Stirner would see as the worst possible denial of individuality. For Stirner, the individual is paramount, and anything which purports to apply to or speak for everyone universally is an effacement of individual uniqueness and difference. The individual is plagued by these abstract ideals, these apparitions that are not of his own creation and are imposed on him, confronting him with impossible moral and rational standards. As we shall see, moreover, the individual for Stirner is not a stable, fixed identity or essence--this would be just as much an idealist abstraction as the specters that oppress it. Rather, individuality may be seen here in terms similar to Foucault's--as a radically contingent form of subjectivity, an open strategy that one engages in to question and contest the confines of essentialism.



The Critique of Essentialism

The exorcism that Stirner performs on this "spirit realm" of moral and rational absolutes is part of a radical critique of Enlightenment humanism and idealism. His "epistemological break" with humanism may be seen most clearly in his repudiation of Ludwig Feuerbach. In The Essence of Christianity, Feuerbach applied the notion of alienation to religion. Religion is alienating, according to Feuerbach, because it requires that man abdicate his essential qualities and powers by projecting them onto an abstract God beyond the grasp of humanity. For Feuerbach, the predicates of God were really only the predicates of man as a species being. God was an illusion, a fictitious projection of the essential qualities of man. In other words, God was a reification of human essence. Like Kant, who tried to transcend the dogmatism of metaphysics by reconstructing it on rational and scientific grounds, Feuerbach wanted to overcome religious alienation by re-establishing the universal rational and moral capacities of man as the fundamental ground for human experience. Feuerbach embodies the Enlightenment humanist project of restoring man to his rightful place at the center of the universe, of making the human the divine, the finite the infinite.

Stirner argues, however, that by seeking the sacred in "human essence," by positing an essential and universal subject and attributing to him certain qualities that had hitherto been attributed to God, Feuerbach has merely reintroduced religious alienation, placing the abstract concept of man within the category of the Divine. Through the Feuerbachian inversion man becomes like God, and just as man was debased under God, so the individual is debased beneath this perfect being, man. For Stirner, man is just as oppressive, if not more so, than God. Man becomes the substitute for the Christian illusion. Feuerbach, Stirner argues, is the high priest of a new universal religion--humanism: "The human religion is only the last metamorphosis of the Christian religion" (158). It is important to note here that Stirner's concept of alienation is fundamentally different from the Feuerbachian humanist understanding as alienation from one's essence. Stirner radicalizes the theory of alienation by seeing this essence as itself alienating. As I shall suggest, alienation in this instance may be seen more along the lines of a Foucauldian notion of domination--as a discourse that ties the individual to a certain subjectivity through the conviction that there lies within everyone an essence to be revealed.

According to Stirner, it is this notion of a universal human essence that provides the foundations for the absolutization of moral and rational ideas. These maxims have become sacred and immutable because they are now based on the notion of humanity, on man's essence, and to transgress them would be a transgression of this very essence. In this way the subject is brought into conflict with itself. Man is, in a sense, haunted and alienated by himself, by the specter of "essence" inside him: "Henceforth man no longer, in typical cases, shudders at ghosts outside him, but at himself; he is terrified at himself" (Stirner 41). So for Stirner, Feuerbach's "insurrection" has not overthrown the category of religious authority--it has merely installed man within it, reversing the order of subject and predicate. In the same way, we might suggest that Kant's metaphysical "insurrection" has not overthrown dogmatic structures of belief, but only installed morality and rationality within them.

While Kant wanted to take morality out of the domain of religion, founding it instead on reason, Stirner maintains that morality is only the old religious dogmatism in a new, rational guise: "Moral faith is as fanatical as religious faith!" (45). What Stirner objects to is not morality itself, but the fact that it has become a sacred, unbreakable law, and he exposes the will to power, the cruelty and the domination behind moral ideas. Morality is based on the desecration, the breaking down of the individual will. The individual must conform to prevailing moral codes; otherwise, he becomes alienated from his essence. For Stirner, moral coercion is just as vicious as the coercion carried out by the state, only it is more insidious and subtle, since it does not require the use of physical force. The warden of morality is already installed in the individual's conscience. This internalized moral surveillance is also found in Foucault's discussion of Panopticism--in which he argues, reversing the classical paradigm, that the soul becomes the prison for the body (Foucault, Discipline 195-228).

A similar critique may be leveled at rationality. Rational truths are always held above individual perspectives, and Stirner argues that this is merely another way of dominating the individual. As with morality, Stirner is not necessarily against rational truth itself, but rather against the way it has become sacred, transcendental, and removed from the grasp of the individual, thus abrogating the individual's power. Stirner says: "As long as you believe in the truth, you do not believe in yourself, and you are a --servant, a--religious man" (312). Rational truth, for Stirner, has no real meaning beyond individual perspectives--it is something that can be used by the individual. Its real basis, as with morality, is power.

So while, for Kant, moral maxims are rationally and freely obeyed, for Stirner they are a coercive standard, based on an alienating notion of human "essence" that is forced upon the individual. Moreover, they become the basis for practices of punishment and domination. For instance, in response to the Enlightenment idea that crime was a to be cured rather than a moral failing to be punished, Stirner argues that curative and punitive strategies were just two sides of the same old moral prejudice. Both strategies rely on a universal norm which must be adhered to: "'curative means' always announces to begin with that individuals will be looked on as 'called' to a particular 'salvation' and hence treated according to the requirements of this 'human calling'" (213). Is not the individual, for Kant, also "called" to a particular "salvation" when he is required to do his duty and obey moral codes? Is not the Kantian categorical imperative also a "human calling" in this sense? In other words, Stirner's critique of morality and rationality may be applied to Kant's categorical imperative. For Stirner, although moral maxims may be ostensibly freely followed, they still entail a hidden coercion and authoritarianism. This is because they have become universalized in the Kantian formulation as absolute norms which leave little room for individual autonomy, and which one cannot transgress, because to do so would be to go against one's own rational, universal "human calling."

Stirner's critique of morality and its relation to punishment has striking similarities with Foucault's own writings on punishment. For Stirner, as we have seen, there is no difference between cure and punishment--the practice of curing is a reapplication of the old moral prejudices in a new "enlightened" guise:

Curative means or healing is only the reverse side of punishment, the theory of cure runs parallel with the theory of punishment; if the latter sees in an action a sin against right, the former takes it for a sin of the man against himself, as a falling away from his health. (213)

This is very similar to Foucault's argument about the modern formula of punishment--that medical and psychiatric norms are only the old morality in a new guise. While Stirner considers the effect of such forms of moral hygiene on the individual conscience, where Foucault's focus is more on the materiality of the body, the formula of cure and punishment is the same: it is the notion of what is properly "human" that authorizes a whole series of exclusions, disciplinary practices, and restrictive moral and rational norms. For Foucault, as well as for Stirner, punishment is made possible by making something sacred or absolute--in the way that Kant makes morality into a universal law. There are several points to be made here. Firstly, both Stirner and Foucault see moral and rational discourses as problematic--they often exclude, marginalize, and oppress those who do not live up to the norms implicit in these discourses. Secondly, both thinkers see rationality and morality as being implicated in power relations, rather than constituting a critical epistemological point outside power. Not only are these norms made possible by practices of power, through the exclusion and domination of the other, but they also, in turn, justify and perpetuate practices of power, such as those found in the prison and asylum.

Thirdly, both thinkers see morality as having an ambiguous relation to freedom. While Stirner argues that on the surface moral and rational norms are freely adhered to, they nevertheless entail an oppression over ourselves--a self-domination--that is far more insidious and effective than straightforward coercion. In other words, by conforming to universally prevailing moral and rational norms, the individual abdicates his own power and allows himself to be dominated. Foucault also unmasks this hidden domination of the moral and rational norm that is found behind the calm visage of human freedom. The classical Enlightenment idea of freedom, Foucault argues, allowed only pseudo-sovereignty. It claims to hold sovereign "consciousness (sovereign in the context of judgment, but subjected to the necessities of truth), the individual (a titular control of personal rights subjected to the laws of nature and society), basic freedom (sovereign within, but accepting the demands of an outside world and 'aligned with destiny')" (Foucault, "Revolutionary" 221). In other words, Enlightenment humanism claims to free individuals from all sorts of institutional oppressions while, at the same time, entailing an intensification of oppression over the self and denial of the power to resist this subjection. This subordination at the heart of freedom may be seen in the Kantian categorical imperative: while it is based on a freedom of consciousness, this freedom is nevertheless subject to absolute rational and moral categories. Classical freedom only liberates a certain form of subjectivity, while intensifying domination over the individual who is subordinated by these moral and rational criteria. That is to say that the discourse of freedom is based on a specific form of subjectivity--the autonomous, rational man of the Enlightenment and liberalism. As Foucault and Stirner show, this form of freedom is only made possible through the domination and exclusion of other modes of subjectivity that do not conform to this rational model. In other words, while morality does not deny or constrain freedom in an overt way--in Kant's case moral maxims are based on the individual's freedom of choice--this freedom is nevertheless restricted in a more subtle fashion because it is required to conform to moral and rational absolutes.

It is clear, then, that for both Stirner and Foucault, the classical Kantian idea of freedom is deeply problematic. It constructs the individual as "rational" and "free" while subjecting him to absolute moral and rational norms, and dividing him into rational and irrational, moral and immoral selves. The individual freely conforms to these rational norms, and in this way his subjectivity is constructed as a site of its own oppression. The silent tyranny of the self-imposed norm has become the prevailing mode of subjection. While for Kant, moral maxims and rational norms existed in a complementary relationship with freedom, for Stirner and Foucault the relationship is much more paradoxical and conflicting. It is not that transcendental moral and rational norms deny freedom per se--indeed in the Kantian paradigm they presuppose freedom. It is rather that the form of freedom brought into being through these absolute categories implies other, more subtle forms of domination. This domination is made possible precisely because freedom's relationship with power is masked. For Kant, as we have seen, freedom is an absence from coercion. However, for Stirner and Foucault, freedom is always implicated in power relations--power relations that are creative as well as restrictive. To ignore this, moreover, to perpetuate the comforting illusion that freedom promises a universal liberation from power, is to play right into the hands of domination. It may be argued, then, that Foucault and Stirner uncover, in different ways, the authoritarian underside or the "other scene" of Kantian freedom.

Foucauldian Freedom: The Care of the Self

This does not mean, however, that Stirner and Foucault reject the idea of freedom. On the contrary, they interrogate the limits of the Enlightenment project of freedom in order to expand it--to invent new forms of freedom and autonomy that go beyond the restrictions of the categorical imperative. Indeed, as Olivia Custer shows, Foucault is as engaged as Kant in the problematic of freedom. However, as we shall see, he seeks to approach the question of freedom in a different way--through concrete ethical strategies and practices of the self.

For Foucault, the illusion of a state of freedom beyond the world of power must be dispelled. Moreover, freedom's attachment to essentialist categories and pre-ordained moral and rational coordinates must at least be questioned. However, the concept of freedom is very important for Foucault--he does not want to dispense with it, but rather to situate it in a realm of power relations that necessarily make it indeterminate. It is only through a rethinking of freedom in this way that it can be wrested from the metaphysical world and brought to the level of the individual. Rather than the abstract Kantian notion of freedom as a rational choice beyond constraints and limitations, freedom for Foucault exists in mutual and reciprocal relations with power. Moreover, rather than freedom being presupposed by absolute moral maxims, it is actually presupposed by power. According to Foucault, power may be understood as a series of "actions upon the action of others" in which multiple discourses, counterdiscourses, strategies, and technologies clash with one another--specific relations of power always provoking specific and localized relations of resistance. Resistance is something that exceeds power and is at the same time integral to its dynamic. Power is based on a certain freedom of action, a certain choice of possibilities. In this sense, "power is exercised only over free subjects, and only insofar as they are free" (Foucault, "Subject" 208-26). Unlike classical schema in which power and freedom were diagrammatically opposed, Foucauldian thinking asserts the total dependency of the former on the latter. Where there is no freedom, where the field of action is absolutely restricted and determined, according to Foucault, there can be no power: slavery, for instance, is not a power relationship (Foucault, "Subject" 221).

Foucault's notion of freedom is a radical departure from Kant's. Whereas, for Kant, freedom is abstracted from the constraints and limitations of power, for Foucault, freedom is the very basis of these limits and constraints. Freedom is not a metaphysical and transcendental concept. Rather, it is entirely of this world and exists in a complicated and entangled relationship with power. Indeed, there can be no possibility of a world free from power relations, as power and freedom cannot exist without one another.

Moreover, Foucault is able to see freedom as being implicated in power relations because, for him, freedom is more than just the absence or negation of constraint. He rejects the "repressive" model of freedom which presupposes an essential self--a universal human nature--that is restricted and needs to be liberated. The liberation of an essential subjectivity is the basis of classical Enlightenment notions of freedom and is still central to our political imaginary. However, both Foucault and Stirner reject this idea of an essential self--this is merely an illusion created by power. As Foucault says, "The man described for us, whom we are invited to free, is already in himself the effect of a subjection much more profound than himself" (Discipline 30). While he does not discount acts of political liberation--for example when a people tries to liberate itself from colonial rule--this cannot operate as the basis for an ongoing mode of freedom. To suppose that freedom can be established eternally on the basis of this initial act of liberation is only to invite new forms of domination. If freedom is to be an enduring feature of any political society it must be seen as a practice--an ongoing strategy and mode of action that continuously challenges and questions relations of power.

This practice of freedom is also a creative practice--a continuous process of self-formation of the subject. It is in this sense that freedom may be seen as positive. One of the features that characterizes modernity, according to Foucault, is a Baudelairean "heroic" attitude toward the present. For Baudelaire, the contingent, fleeting nature of modernity is to be confronted with a certain "attitude" toward the present that is concomitant with a new mode of relationship that one has with oneself. This involves a reinvention of the self: "This modernity does not 'liberate man in his own being'; it compels him to face the task of producing himself" (Foucault, "What" 42). So, rather than freedom being a liberation of man's essential self from external constraints, it is an active and deliberate practice of inventing oneself. This practice of freedom may be found in the example of the dandy, or flâneur, "who makes of his body, his behavior, his feelings and passions, his very existence, a work of art" (Foucault, "What" 41-2). It is this practice of self-aestheticization that allows us, according to Foucault, to reflect critically on the limits of our time. It does not seek a metaphysical place beyond all limits, but rather works within the limits and constraints of the present. More importantly, however, it is also a work conducted upon the limits of ourselves and our own identities. Because power operates through a process of subjectification--by tying the individual to an essential identity--the radical reconstitution of the self is a necessary act of resistance. This idea of freedom, then, defines a new form of politics more relevant to contemporary regimes of power: "The political, ethical, social, philosophical problem of our days is not to liberate the individual from the State and its institutions, but to liberate ourselves from the State and the type of individualisation linked to it" (Foucault, "Subject" 216).

For Foucault, moreover, the liberation of the self is a distinctly ethical practice. It involves a notion of "care for the self" whereby one's desires and behavior are regulated by oneself so that freedom may be practiced ethically. This sensitivity to the care for oneself and the ethical practice of freedom could be found, Foucault suggests, among the Greeks and Romans of antiquity. For them the freedom of the individual was an ethical problem. Because the desire for power over others was also a threat to one's own freedom, the exercise of power was something that had to be regulated, monitored, and limited. To be a slave to one's own desires was as bad as being subject to another's desires. This regulation of one's desires and practices required an ethics of behavior that one constructed for oneself. In order to practice freedom ethically, in order to be truly free, one had to achieve power over oneself, over one's desires. As Foucault shows, in ancient Greek and Roman thinking, "the good ruler is precisely the one who exercises his power correctly, i.e., by exercising at the same time his power on himself" ("Ethics" 288).

This ethical practice of freedom associated with the care for the self begins, however, at a certain point to sound somewhat Kantian. Indeed, as Foucault says, "for what is ethics, if not the practice of freedom? [...]. Freedom is the ontological condition of ethics" ("Ethics" 284). Does this not appear to re-invoke the categorical imperative where, for Kant, morality presupposes and is founded on freedom? Has Foucault, in his attempt to escape the absolutism of morality and rationality, reintroduced the categorical imperative in this careful regulation of behavior and desire? There can be no doubt about the stringency of this form of ethics. In The Use of Pleasure and The Care of the Self, Foucault describes the Greeks' and Romans' prescriptions concerning everything from diet and exercise to sex. However, I would suggest that there is an important difference between the ethics of care and the universal moral maxims insisted on by Kant. The regulation of behavior and the problematization of freedom central to the ethic of care are things that one applies to oneself, rather than being imposed externally from a universal point beyond the individual. Foucault's practice of freedom is, in this sense, an ethics, rather than a morality. It is a certain consistency of modes and behaviors that has as its object the consideration and problematization of the self. In other words, it allows the self to be seen as an open project to be constituted through the ethical practices of the individual, rather than as something defined a priori by universal, transcendental laws. Moral laws do not apply here--there is no transcendental authority or universal imperative that sanctions these ethical practices and penalizes infractions. According to Foucault, morality is defined by the type of subjectification it entails. On the one hand, there is the morality that enforces the code, through injunctions, and which entails a form of subjectivity that refers the individual's conduct to these laws, submitting it to their universal authority. This, it could be argued, is the morality of Kant's categorical imperative. On the other hand, argues Foucault, there is the morality in which

the accent was placed on the relationship of the self that enabled the person to keep from being carried away by the appetites and pleasures, to maintain a mastery and superiority over them, to keep his senses in a state of tranquility, to remain free from interior bondage to the passions, and to achieve a mode of being that could be defined by the full enjoyment of oneself, or the perfect supremacy of oneself over oneself. (Use 29-30)

We can see, then, that Foucault's notion of freedom as an ethical practice is radically different from Kant's idea of freedom as the basis of universal moral law. For Foucault, freedom is ethical because it implies an open-ended project that is conducted upon oneself, the aim of which is to increase the power that one exercises over oneself and to limit and regulate the power one exercises over others. In this way, one's personal freedom and autonomy are enhanced. For Kant, on the other hand, freedom is the basis of a metaphysical morality that must be universally obeyed. For Foucault, in other words, ethics intensifies freedom and autonomy, whereas for Kant, freedom and autonomy are ultimately circumscribed by the very morality they make possible.

So, there are two related aspects of Foucault's concept of freedom that must be emphasized here. Firstly, there is the practice of freedom that allows one to liberate oneself, not from external limits that repress one's essence, but rather from the limits imposed by this very essence. It involves, in a sense, the transgression of these limits through a transgression and reinvention of oneself. It is a form of freedom which operates within the limits of power, enabling the individual to make use of the limits in inventing him/herself. Secondly, there is the aspect of freedom that is distinctly ethical--it is a practice of care for the self that has as its aim an increase of the power over oneself and one's desires, thus keeping in check one's exercise of power over others. In this way, the practice of care for the self allows the individual to navigate an ethical course of action amidst power relations, with the aim of intensifying freedom and personal autonomy. Therefore, freedom is conceived as an ongoing and contingent practice of the self that is not determined in advance by fixed moral and rational laws.

The Two Enlightenments

In his later essay "What Is Enlightenment?," Foucault considers Kant's insistence on the free and public use of autonomous reason as an escape, a "way out" for man from a state of immaturity and subordination. While Foucault believes that this autonomous reason is useful because it allows a critical ethos toward modernity, he refuses the "blackmail" of the Enlightenment--the insistence that this critical ethos at the heart of the Enlightenment be inscribed in a universal rationality and morality. The problem with Kant is that he opens up a space for individual autonomy and critical reflection on the limits of oneself, only to close this space down by re-inscribing it in transcendental notions of rationality and morality that require absolute obedience. For Foucault, the legacy of the Enlightenment is deeply ambiguous. As Colin Gordon shows, for Foucault there are two Enlightenments--the Enlightenment of rational certainty, absolute identity, and destiny, and the Enlightenment of continual questioning and uncertainty. According to Foucault, this ambiguity is reflected in Kant's own treatment of the Enlightenment.

There is perhaps a Kantian moment in Foucault (or could we say a Foucauldian moment in Kant?). Foucault shows how one might read Kant in a heterogeneous way, focusing on the more libratory aspect of his thinking--where we are encouraged to interrogate the limits of modernity, to reflect critically on the way we have been constituted as subjects. As Foucault shows, Kant sees the Enlightenment (Aufklärung) as a critical condition, characterized by an "audacity to know" and the free and autonomous public use of reason. This critical condition is concomitant with a "will to revolution"--with the attempt to understand revolution (in Kant's case the French Revolution) as an Event that allows an interrogation of the conditions of modernity--"an ontology of the present"--and the way we as subjects stand in relation to it (Foucault, "Kant" 88-96). Foucault suggests that we may adopt this critical strategy to reflect upon the limits of the discourse of the Enlightenment itself and its universal rational and moral injunctions. We may in this sense use the critical capacities of the Enlightenment against itself, thus opening up spaces for individual autonomy within its edifice, beyond the grasp of universal laws.

This critical stance toward the present, and the practice of the "care for the self" with which it is bound up, outline a genealogical strategy of freedom--a strategy that, as Foucault says "is not seeking to make possible a metaphysics that has finally become a science; it is seeking to give new impetus [...] to the undefined work of freedom" ("What" 46).

Stirner's Theory of Ownness

As we shall see, it is precisely this desire to give new impetus to freedom, to take it out of the realm of empty dreams and promises, that is reflected in Stirner's theory of ownness. He adopts a "genealogical" approach similar to Foucault's in making the focus of freedom the self and situating freedom amidst relations of power.

The idea of transgressing and reinventing the self--of freeing the self from fixed and essential identities--is also a central theme in Stirner's thinking. As we have seen, Stirner shows that the notion of human essence is an oppressive fiction derived from an inverted Christian idealism that tyrannizes the individual and is linked with various forms of political domination. Stirner describes a process of subjectification which is very similar to Foucault's: rather than power operating as downward repression, it rules through the subjectification of the individual, by defining him according to an essential identity. As Stirner says: "the State betrays its enmity to me by demanding that I be a man . . . it imposes being a man upon me as a duty" (161). Human essence imposes a series of fixed moral and rational ideas on the individual, which are not of his creation and which curtail his autonomy. It is precisely this notion of duty, of moral obligation--the same sense of duty that is the basis of the categorical imperative--that Stirner finds oppressive.

For Stirner, then, the individual must free him- or herself from these oppressive ideas and obligations by first freeing himself from essence--from the essential identity that is imposed on him. Freedom involves, then, a transgression of essence, a transgression of the self. But what form should this transgression take? Like Foucault, Stirner is suspicious of the language of liberation and revolution--it is based on a notion of an essential self that supposedly throws off the chains of external repression. For Stirner, it is precisely this notion of human essence that is itself oppressive. Therefore, different strategies of freedom are called for--ones that abandon the humanist project of liberation and seek, rather, to reconfigure the subject in new and non-essentialist ways. To this end, Stirner calls for an insurrection:

Revolution and insurrection must not be looked upon as synonymous. The former consists in an overturning of conditions, of the established condition or status, the state or society, and is accordingly a political or social act; the latter has indeed for its unavoidable consequence a transformation of circumstances, yet does not start from it but from men's discontent with themselves, is not an armed rising but a rising of individuals, a getting up without regard to the arrangements that spring from it. The revolution aimed at new arrangements; insurrection leads us no longer to let ourselves be arranged, but to arrange ourselves, and sets no glittering hopes on "institutions." It is not a fight against the established, since, if it prospers, the established collapses of itself; it is only a working forth of me out of the established. (279-80)

So while a revolution aims at transforming existing social and political conditions so that human essence may flourish, an insurrection aims at freeing the individual from this very essence. Like Foucault's practices of freedom, the insurrection aims at transforming the relationship that the individual has with himself. The insurrection starts, then, with the individual refusing his or her enforced essential identity: it starts, as Stirner says, from men's discontent with themselves. Insurrection does not aim at overthrowing political institutions. It is aimed at the individual, in a sense transgressing his own identity--the outcome of which is, nevertheless, a change in political arrangements. Insurrection is therefore not about becoming what one is--becoming human, becoming man--but about becoming what one is not.

This ethos of escaping essential identities through a reinvention of oneself has many important parallels with the Baudelarian aestheticization of the self that interests Foucault. Like Baudelaire's assertion that the self must be treated as a work of art, Stirner sees the self--or the ego--as a "creative nothingness," a radical emptiness which is up to the individual to define: "I do not presuppose myself, because I am every moment just positing or creating myself" (135). The self, for Stirner, is a process, a continuous flow of self-creating flux--it is a process that eludes the imposition of fixed identities and essences: "no concept expresses me, nothing that is designated as my essence exhausts me" (324).

Therefore, Stirner's strategy of insurrection and Foucault's project of care for the self are both contingent practices of freedom that involve a reconfiguration of the subject and its relationship with the self. For Stirner, as with Foucault, freedom is an undefined and open-ended project in which the individual engages. The insurrection, as Stirner argues, does not rely on political institutions to grant freedom to the individual, but looks to the individual to invent his or her own forms of freedom. It is an attempt to construct spaces of autonomy within relations of power, by limiting the power that is exercised over the individual by others and increasing the power that the individual exercises over himself. The individual, moreover, is free to reinvent himself in new and unpredictable ways, escaping the limits imposed by human essence and universal notions of morality.

The notion of insurrection involves a reformulation of the concept of freedom in ways that are radically post-Kantian. Stirner suggests, for instance, that there can be no truly universal idea of freedom; freedom is always a particular freedom in the guise of the universal. The universal freedom that, for Kant, is the domain of all rational individuals, would only mask some hidden particular interest. Freedom, according to Stirner, is an ambiguous and problematic concept, an "enchantingly beautiful dream" that seduces the individual yet remains unattainable, and from which the individual must awaken.

Furthermore, freedom is a limited concept. It is only seen in its narrow negative sense. Stirner wants, rather, to extend the concept to a more positive freedom to. Freedom in the negative sense involves only self-abnegation--to be rid of something, to deny oneself. That is why, according to Stirner, the freer the individual ostensibly becomes, in accordance with the emancipative ideals of Enlightenment humanism, the more he loses the power he exercises over himself. On the other hand, positive freedom--or ownness--is a form of freedom that is invented by the individual for him or herself. Unlike Kantian freedom, ownness is not guaranteed by universal ideals or categorical imperatives. If it were, it could only lead to further domination: "The man who is set free is nothing but a freed man [...] he is an unfree man in the garment of freedom, like the ass in the lion's skin" (152).

Freedom must, rather, be seized by the individual. For freedom to have any value it must be based on the power of the individual to create it. "My freedom becomes complete only when it is my--might; but by this I cease to be a merely free man, and become and own man" (151). Stirner was one of the first to recognize that the true basis of freedom is power. To see freedom as a universal absence of power is to mask its very basis in power. The theory of ownness is a recognition, and indeed an affirmation, of the inevitable relation between freedom and power. Ownness is the realization of the individual's power over himself--the ability to create his or her own forms of freedom, which are not circumscribed by metaphysical or essentialist categories. In this sense, ownness is a form of freedom that goes beyond the categorical imperative. It is based on a notion of the self as a contingent and open field of possibilities, rather than on an absolute and dutiful adherence to external moral maxims.

Conclusion

This idea of ownness is crucial in formulating a post-Kantian concept of freedom. Perhaps, in Stirner's words, "Ownness created a new freedom" (147). Firstly, ownness allows freedom to be considered beyond the limits of universal moral and rational categories. Ownness is the form of freedom that one invents for oneself, rather than one that is guaranteed by transcendental ideals. Foucault, too, sought to "free" freedom from these oppressive limits. Secondly, ownness converges closely with Foucault's own argument about freedom being situated in power relations. Like Foucault, Stirner shows that the idea of freedom as entailing a complete absence of power and constraint is illusory. The individual is always involved in a complex network of power relations, and freedom must be fought for, reinvented, and renegotiated within these limits. Ownness may be seen, then, as creating the possibilities of resistance to power. Similarly to Foucault, Stirner maintains that freedom and resistance can always exist, even in the most oppressive conditions. In this sense, ownness is a project of freedom and resistance within power's limits--it is the recognition of the fundamentally antagonistic and ambiguous nature of freedom. Thirdly, not only is ownness an attempt to limit the domination of the individual, but it is also a way of intensifying the power that one exercises over oneself. We have seen that for both Stirner and Foucault, Kant's universal freedom is based on absolute moral and rational norms that limit individual sovereignty. Foucault and Stirner are both interested, in different ways, in reformulating the concept of freedom: through the ethical practice of care of the self and through the strategy of ownness, both of which are aimed at increasing the power that the individual has over himself.

These two strategies allow us to conceptualize freedom in a more contemporary way. Freedom can no longer be seen as a universal emancipation, the eternal promise of a world beyond the limits of power. The freedom that forms the basis of the categorical imperative, the freedom exalted by Kant as the province of reason and morality, can no longer serve as the basis for contemporary ideas of freedom. It has been also shown by Stirner and Foucault to exclude and oppress where it includes, to enslave where it also liberates. Freedom must be seen as no longer being subservient to absolute maxims of morality and rationality, to imperatives that invoke the dull, cold inevitability of law and punishment. For Stirner and Foucault, freedom must be "freed" from these absolute notions. Rather than a privilege that is granted from a metaphysical point to the individual, freedom must be seen as a practice, a critical ethos of the self, and as a struggle that is engaged in by the individual within the problematic of power. It necessarily involves a reflection on the limits of the self and the ontological conditions of the present--a constant reinvention and problematization of subjectivity. A post-Kantian freedom, in this way, is not only a recognition of power, but also a reflection upon power's limits--an affirmation of the possibilities of individual autonomy within power and of the critical capacities of modern subjectivity.



Works Cited



Custer, Olivia. "Exercising Freedom: Kant and Foucault." Philosophy Today 42 (1989): 137-146.

Feuerbach, Ludwig. The Essence of Christianity. New York: Harper, 1957.

Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Penguin, 1977. 195-228.

---. "The Ethics of the Concern for the Self as a Practice of Freedom." Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth. Essential Works of Michel Foucault, 1954-1984. Ed. Paul Rabinow. Trans. Robert J. Hurley. Vol. 1. London: Penguin, 1997. 281-301.

---. "Intellectual and Power: A Conversation between Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze." Foucault, Language 204-217.

---. "Kant on Enlightenment and Revolution." Trans. Colin Gordon. Economy and Society 15.1 (1986): 88-96.

---. Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews. Ed. Donald Bouchard. Oxford: Blackwell, 1977. 204-217.

---. "Revolutionary Action: 'Until Now.'" Foucault, Language 218-233.

---. "The Subject and Power." Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics. By Hubert L. Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1982. 208-226.

---. The Use of Pleasure: The History of Sexuality, Volume 2. Trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Pantheon, 1985. 29-30.

---. "What is Enlightenment?" The Foucault Reader. Ed. Paul Rabinow. New York: Pantheon, 1984. 32-50.

Gordon, Colin. "Question, Ethos, Event: Foucault on Kant and the Enlightenment." Economy and Society 15.1 (1986): 71-87.

Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Practical Reason. Trans. Thomas Kingsmill Abbot. London: Longmans, 1963.

Koch, Andrew. "Max Stirner: The Last Hegelian or the First Poststructuralist." Anarchist Studies 5 (1997): 95-107.

Lacan, Jacques. "Kant with Sade." October 51 (1989): 55-75.

Rajchman, John. Michel Foucault: The Freedom of Philosophy. New York: Columbia UP, 1985.

Stirner, Max. The Ego and Its Own. Trans. David Leopold. Cambridge and London: U of Cambridge P, 1995.

Zizek, Slavoj. "Kant with (or against) Sade." The Zizek Reader. Eds. Elizabeth Wright and Edmond Wright. Oxford: Blackwell, 1999.



© 2003 POSTMODERNCULTURE VOLUME: 13.2



[1] (http://www.postanarki.net/saul5.htm#_ftnref1) See Koch.


[2] (http://www.postanarki.net/saul5.htm#_ftnref2) This rejection of the anthropological foundations of freedom is also discussed by Rajchman. Indeed Rajchman sees Foucault's project of freedom as an ethical attitude of continual questioning of the borders and limits of our contemporary experience--a freedom of philosophy as well as a philosophy of freedom. My discussion of Foucault's reconfiguration of the problematic of freedom in terms of concrete ethical strategies of the self may also be seen in this context.


[3] (http://www.postanarki.net/saul5.htm#_ftnref3) See Lacan. In this essay, Lacan shows that the Law produces its own transgression, and that it can only operate through this transgression. The excess of Sade does not contradict the injunctions, laws, and categorical imperatives of Kant; rather, they are inextricably linked to it. Like Foucault's discussion of the "spirals" of power and pleasure, in which power produces the very pleasure it is seen to repress, Lacan suggests that the denial of enjoyment--embodied in Law, in the categorical imperative--produces its own form of perverse enjoyment, or jouissance as a surplus--le plus de jouir. Sade, according to Lacan, exposes this obscene enjoyment by reversing the paradigm: he turns this perverse pleasure into a law itself, into a sort of Kantian categorical imperative or universal principle: "Let us enunciate the maxim: 'I have the right of enjoyment over your body, anyone can say to me, and I will exercise this right, without any limit stopping me in the capriciousness of the exactions that I might have the taste to satiate'" (58). In this way the obscene pleasure of the Law that is unmasked in Kant is reversed into the Law of obscene pleasure through Sade. As Zizek remarks in "Kant with (or against) Sade," the crucial insight of Lacan's argument here is not that Kant is a closet sadist, but rather that Sade is a "closet Kantian." That is, Sadean excess is taken to such an extreme that it becomes emptied of pleasure and takes the form of a cold-blooded, joyless universal Law.






http://www.postanarki.net/saul5.htm

Siegmund
Thursday, January 20th, 2005, 02:39 PM
In a similar vein, this article by the indomitable Slavov Žižek:



'You May!'
Slavoj Zizek

'Rule Girls' are heterosexual women who follow precise rules as to how they let themselves be seduced (accept a date only if you are asked at least three days in advance etc). Although the rules correspond to customs which used to regulate the behaviour of old-fashioned women actively pursued by old-fashioned men, the Rule Girls phenomenon does not involve a return to conservative values: women now freely choose their own rules - an instance of the 'reflexivisation' of everyday customs in today's 'risk society'. According to the risk society theory of Anthony Giddens, Ulrich Beck and others, we no longer live our lives in compliance with Nature or Tradition; there is no symbolic order or code of accepted fictions (what Lacan calls the 'Big Other') to guide us in our social behaviour. All our impulses, from sexual orientation to ethnic belonging, are more and more often experienced as matters of choice. Things which once seemed self-evident - how to feed and educate a child, how to proceed in sexual seduction, how and what to eat, how to relax and amuse oneself - have now been 'colonised' by reflexivity, and are experienced as something to be learned and decided on.

The retreat of the accepted Big Other accounts for the prevalence of code-cracking in popular culture. New Age pseudo-scientific attempts to use computer technology to crack some recondite code - in the Bible, say, or the pyramids - which can reveal the future of humanity offer one example of this. Another is provided by the scene in cyberspace movies in which the hero (or often the heroine), hunched over a computer and frantically working against time, has his/her 'access denied', until he/ she cracks the code and discovers that a secret government agency is involved in a plot against freedom and democracy. Believing there is a code to be cracked is of course much the same as believing in the existence of some Big Other: in every case what is wanted is an agent who will give structure to our chaotic social lives.

Even racism is now reflexive. Consider the Balkans. They are portrayed in the liberal Western media as a vortex of ethnic passion - a multiculturalist dream turned into a nightmare. The standard reaction of a Slovene (I am one myself) is to say: 'yes, this is how it is in the Balkans, but Slovenia is not part of the Balkans; it is part of Mitteleuropa; the Balkans begin in Croatia or in Bosnia; we Slovenes are the last bulwark of European civilisation against the Balkan madness.' If you ask, 'Where do the Balkans begin?' you will always be told that they begin down there, towards the south-east. For Serbs, they begin in Kosovo or in Bosnia where Serbia is trying to defend civilised Christian Europe against the encroachments of this Other. For the Croats, the Balkans begin in Orthodox, despotic and Byzantine Serbia, against which Croatia safeguards Western democratic values. For many Italians and Austrians, they begin in Slovenia, the Western outpost of the Slavic hordes. For many Germans, Austria is tainted with Balkan corruption and inefficiency; for many Northern Germans, Catholic Bavaria is not free of Balkan contamination. Many arrogant Frenchmen associate Germany with Eastern Balkan brutality - it lacks French finesse. Finally, to some British opponents of the European Union, Continental Europe is a new version of the Turkish Empire with Brussels as the new Istanbul - a voracious despotism threatening British freedom and sovereignty.

We are dealing with an imaginary cartography, which projects onto the real landscape its own shadowy ideological antagonisms, in the same way that the conversion-symptoms of the hysterical subject in Freud project onto the physical body the map of another, imaginary anatomy. Much of this projection is racist. First, there is the old-fashioned, unabashed rejection of the Balkan Other (despotic, barbarian, Orthodox, Muslim, corrupt, Oriental) in favour of true values (Western, civilised, democratic, Christian). But there is also a 'reflexive', politically correct racism: the liberal, multiculturalist perception of the Balkans as a site of ethnic horrors and intolerance, of primitive, tribal, irrational passions, as opposed to the reasonableness of post-nation-state conflict resolution by negotiation and compromise. Racism is a disease of the Balkan Other, while we in the West are merely observers, neutral, benevolent and righteously dismayed. Finally, there is reverse racism, which celebrates the exotic authenticity of the Balkan Other, as in the notion of Serbs who, by contrast with inhibited, anaemic Western Europeans, still exhibit a prodigious lust for life. Reverse racism plays a crucial role in the success of Emir Kusturica's films in the West.

Because the Balkans are part of Europe, they can be spoken of in racist clichés which nobody would dare to apply to Africa or Asia. Political struggles in the Balkans are compared to ridiculous operetta plots; Ceausescu was presented as a contemporary reincarnation of Count Dracula. Slovenia is most exposed to this displaced racism, since it is closest to Western Europe: when Kusturica, talking about his film Underground, dismissed the Slovenes as a nation of Austrian grooms, nobody reacted: an 'authentic' artist from the less developed part of former Yugoslavia was attacking the most developed part of it. When discussing the Balkans, the tolerant multiculturalist is allowed to act out his repressed racism.

Perhaps the best example of the universalised reflexivity of our lives is the growing inefficiency of interpretation. Traditional psychoanalysis relied on a notion of the unconscious as the 'dark continent', the impenetrable substance of the subject's being, which had to be probed by interpretation: when its content was brought to light a liberating new awareness would follow. Today, the formations of the unconscious (from dreams to hysterical symptoms) have lost their innocence: the 'free associations' of a typical educated patient consist for the most part of attempts to provide a psychoanalytic explanation of his own disturbances, so we have not only Annafreudian, Jungian, Kleinian, Lacanian interpretations of the symptoms, but symptoms which are themselves Annafreudian, Jungian, Kleinian, Lacanian - they don't exist without reference to some psychoanalytic theory. The unfortunate result of this reflexivisation is that the analyst's interpretation loses its symbolic efficacy and leaves the symptom intact in its idiotic jouissance. It's as though a neo-Nazi skinhead, pressed to give reasons for his behaviour, started to talk like a social worker, sociologist or social psychologist, citing diminished social mobility, rising insecurity, the disintegration of paternal authority, the lack of maternal love in his early childhood.

'When I hear the word "culture", I reach for my gun,' Goebbels is supposed to have said. 'When I hear the word "culture", I reach for my cheque-book,' says the cynical producer in Godard's Le Mépris. A leftist slogan inverts Goebbels's statement: 'When I hear the word "gun", I reach for culture.' Culture, according to that slogan, can serve as an efficient answer to the gun: an outburst of violence is a passage à l'acte rooted in the subject's ignorance. But the notion is undermined by the rise of what might be called 'Post-Modern racism', the surprising characteristic of which is its insensitivity to reflection - a neo-Nazi skinhead who beats up black people knows what he's doing, but does it anyway.

Reflexivisation has transformed the structure of social dominance. Take the public image of Bill Gates. Gates is not a patriarchal father-master, nor even a corporate Big Brother running a rigid bureaucratic empire, surrounded on an inaccessible top floor by a host of secretaries and assistants. He is instead a kind of Small Brother, his very ordinariness an indication of a monstrousness so uncanny that it can no longer assume its usual public form. In photos and drawings he looks like anyone else, but his devious smile points to an underlying evil that is beyond representation. It is also a crucial aspect of Gates as icon that he is seen as the hacker who made it (the term 'hacker' has, of course, subversive/marginal/anti-establishment connotations; it suggests someone who sets out to disturb the smooth functioning of large bureaucratic corporations). At the level of fantasy, Gates is a small-time, subversive hooligan who has taken over and dressed himself up as the respectable chairman. In Bill Gates, Small Brother, the average ugly guy coincides with and contains the figure of evil genius who aims for total control of our lives. In early James Bond movies, the evil genius was an eccentric figure, dressed extravagantly, or alternatively, in the grey uniform of the Maoist commissar. In the case of Gates, this ridiculous charade is no longer needed - the evil genius turns out to be the boy next door.

Another aspect of this process is the changed status of the narrative tradition that we use to understand our lives. In Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus (1992), John Gray proposed a vulgarised version of narrativist-deconstructionist psychoanalysis. Since we ultimately 'are' the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, the solution to a psychic deadlock resides, he proposes, in a 'positive' rewriting of the narrative of our past. What he has in mind is not only the standard cognitive therapy of changing negative 'false beliefs' about oneself into an assurance that one is loved by others and capable of creative achievements, but a more 'radical', pseudo-Freudian procedure of regressing back to the scene of the primordial traumatic wound. Gray accepts the psychoanalytic notion of an early childhood traumatic experience that forever marks the subject's further development, but he gives it a pathological spin. What he proposes is that, after regressing to, and thus confronting, his primal traumatic scene, the subject should, under the therapist's guidance, 'rewrite' this scene, this ultimate phantasmatic framework of his subjectivity, as part of a more benign and productive narrative. If, say, the primordial traumatic scene existing in your unconscious, deforming and inhibiting your creative attitude, is that of your father shouting at you, 'You are worthless! I despise you! Nothing good will come of you,' you should rewrite the scene so that a benevolent father smiles at you and says: 'You're OK! I trust you fully.' (Thus the solution for the Wolf Man would have been to 'regress' to the parental coitus a tergo and then rewrite the scene so that what he saw was merely his parents lying on the bed, his father reading a newspaper and his mother a sentimental novel.) It may seem a ridiculous thing to do, but there is a widely accepted, politically correct version of this procedure in which ethnic, sexual and other minorities rewrite their past in a more positive, self-assertive vein (African Americans claiming that long before European modernity, ancient African empires had a sophisticated understanding of science and technology etc). Imagine a rewriting of the Decalogue along the same lines. Is one of the Commandments too severe? Well then, let's regress to Mount Sinai and re write it: adultery - fine, provided it is sincere and serves the goal of profound self-realisation. What disappears is not 'hard fact' but the Real of a traumatic encounter whose organising role in the subject's psychic economy resists its symbolic rewriting.

In our post-political liberal-permissive society, human rights can be seen as expressing the right to violate the Ten Commandments. The right to privacy is, in effect, the right to commit adultery, in secret, without being observed or investigated. The right to pursue happiness and to possess private property is, in effect, the right to steal (to exploit others). Freedom of the press and of expression - the right to lie. The right of free citizens to possess weapons - the right to kill. Freedom of religious belief - the right to celebrate false gods. Human rights do not, of course, directly condone the violation of the Commandments, but they preserve a marginal 'grey zone' which is out of the reach of religious or secular power. In this shady zone, I can violate the Commandments, and if the Power catches me with my pants down and tries to prevent my violation, I can cry: 'Assault on my basic human rights!' It is impossible for the Power to prevent a 'misuse' of human rights without at the same time impinging on their proper application. Lacan draws attention to a resistance to the use of lie-detectors in crime investigations - as if such a direct 'objective' verification somehow infringes the subject's right to the privacy of his thoughts.

A similar tension between rights and prohibitions determines heterosexual seduction in our politically correct times. Or, to put it differently, there is no seduction which cannot at some point be construed as intrusion or harassment because there will always be a point when one has to expose oneself and 'make a pass'. But, of course, seduction doesn't involve incorrect harassment throughout. When you make a pass, you expose yourself to the Other (the potential partner), and her reaction will determine whether what you just did was harassment or a successful act of seduction. There is no way to tell in advance what her response will be (which is why assertive women often despise 'weak' men, who fear to take the necessary risk). This holds even more in our pc times: the pc prohibitions are rules which, in one way or another, are to be violated in the seduction process. Isn't the seducer's art to accomplish the violation in such a way that, afterwards, by its acceptance, any suggestion of harassment has disappeared?

Although psychoanalysis is one of the victims of reflexivisation, it can also help us to understand its implications. It does not lament the disintegration of the old stability or locate in its disappearance the cause of modern neuroses, compelling us to rediscover our roots in traditional wisdom or a deeper self-knowledge. Nor is it just another version of modern reflexive knowledge which teaches us how to master the secrets of our psychic life. What psychoanalysis properly concerns itself with are the unexpected consequences of the disintegration of the structures that have traditionally regulated libidinal life. Why does the decline of paternal authority and fixed social and gender roles generate new guilts and anxieties, instead of opening up a brave new world in which we can enjoy shifting and reshaping our multiple identities?

The Post-Modern constellation in which the subject is bent on experimenting with his life encourages the formation of new 'passionate attachments' (to use Judith Butler's term), but what if the disintegration of patriarchal symbolic authority is counterbalanced by an even stronger 'passionate attachment' to subjection? This would seem to explain the increasing prevalence of a strict and severely enacted master/slave relationship among lesbian couples. The one who gives the orders is the 'top', the one who obeys is the 'bottom' and, in order for the 'top' to be attained, an arduous apprenticeship has to be completed. This 'top/bottom' duality is neither a sign of direct 'identification with the (male) aggressor' nor a parodic imitation of the patriarchal relations of domination. Rather, it expresses the genuine paradox of a freely chosen master/slave form of coexistence which provides deep libidinal satisfaction.

Everything is turned back to front. Public order is no longer maintained by hierarchy, repression and strict regulation, and therefore is no longer subverted by liberating acts of transgression (as when we laugh at a teacher behind his back). Instead, we have social relations among free and equal individuals, supplemented by 'passionate attachment' to an extreme form of submission, which functions as the 'dirty secret', the transgressive source of libidinal satisfaction. In a permissive society, the rigidly codified, authoritarian master/slave relationship becomes transgressive. This paradox or reversal is the proper topic of psychoanalysis: psychoanalysis does not deal with the authoritarian father who prohibits enjoyment, but with the obscene father who enjoins it and thus renders you impotent or frigid. The unconscious is not secret resistance to the law, but the law itself.

The psychoanalytic response to the 'risk-society' theory of the reflexivisation of our lives is not to insist on a pre-reflexive substance, the unconscious, but to suggest that the theory neglects another mode of reflexivity. For psychoanalysis, the perversion of the human libidinal economy is what follows from the prohibition of some pleasurable activity: not a life led in strict obedience to the law and deprived of all pleasure but a life in which exercising the law provides a pleasure of its own, a life in which performance of the ritual destined to keep illicit temptation at bay becomes the source of libidinal satisfaction. The military life, for example, may be governed as much by an unwritten set of obscene rules and rituals (homoerotically-charged beatings and humiliations of younger comrades) as by official regulations. This sexualised violence does not undermine order in the barracks: it functions as its direct libidinal support. Regulatory power mechanisms and procedures become 'reflexively' eroticised: although repression first emerges as an attempt to regulate any desire considered 'illicit' by the predominant socio-symbolic order, it can only survive in the psychic economy if the desire for regulation is there - if the very activity of regulation becomes libidinally invested and turns into a source of libidinal satisfaction.

This reflexivity undermines the notion of the Post-Modern subject free to choose and reshape his identity. The psychoanalytic concept that designates the short-circuit between the repression and what it represses is the superego. As Lacan emphasised again and again, the essential content of the superego's injunction is 'Enjoy!' A father works hard to organise a Sunday excursion, which has to be postponed again and again. When it finally takes place, he is fed up with the whole idea and shouts at his children: 'Now you'd better enjoy it!' The superego works in a different way from the symbolic law. The parental figure who is simply 'repressive' in the mode of symbolic authority tells a child: 'You must go to grandma's birthday party and behave nicely, even if you are bored to death - I don't care whether you want to, just do it!' The superego figure, in contrast, says to the child: 'Although you know how much grandma would like to see you, you should go to her party only if you really want to - if you don't, you should stay at home.' The trick performed by the superego is to seem to offer the child a free choice, when, as every child knows, he is not being given any choice at all. Worse than that, he is being given an order and told to smile at the same time. Not only: 'You must visit your grandma, whatever you feel,' but: 'You must visit your grandma, and you must be glad to do it!' The superego orders you to enjoy doing what you have to do. What happens, after all, if the child takes it that he has a genuinely free choice and says 'no'? The parent will make him feel terrible. 'How can you say that!' his moth er will say: 'How can you be so cruel! What did your poor grandma do to make you not want to see her?'

'You can do your duty, because you must do it' is how Kant formulated the categor ical imperative. The usual negative corollary of this formula serves as the foundat ion of moral constraint: 'You cannot, because you should not.' The argument of those who oppose human cloning, for example, is that it cannot be allowed because it would involve the reduction of a human being to an entity whose psychic properties can be manipulated. Which is another variation on Wittgenstein's 'Whereof one cannot speak thereof one must be silent.' In other words, we should say that we can't do it, because otherwise we may do it, with catastrophic ethical consequences. If the Christian opponents of cloning believe in the immortality of the soul and the uniqueness of the personality - i.e. that I am not just the result of the interaction between my genetic code and my environment - why oppose cloning? Is it possible that they do in fact believe in the ability of genetics to reach the very core of our personality? Why do some Christians oppose cloning with talk of the 'unfathomable mystery of the conception' as if by cloning my body I am at the same time cloning my immortal soul?

The superego inverts the Kantian 'You can, because you must' in a different way, turning it into 'You must, because you can.' This is the meaning of Viagra, which promises to restore the capacity of male erection in a purely biochemical way, bypassing all psychological problems. Now that Viagra can take care of the erection, there is no excuse: you should have sex whenever you can; and if you don't you should feel guilty. New Ageism, on the other hand, offers a way out of the super ego predicament by claiming to recover the spontaneity of our 'true' selves. But New Age wisdom, too, relies on the superego imperative: 'It is your duty to achieve full self-realisation and self-fulfilment, because you can.' Isn't this why we often feel that we are being terrorised by the New Age language of liberation?

Although submission within a lesbian sado-masochistic relationship and the submission of an individual to a fundamental religious or ethnic belief are both generated by modern reflexivisation, their libidinal economies are quite different. The lesbian master/slave relationship is a theatrical enactment, based on accepted rules and a contract that has been freely entered into. As such, it has a tremendous liberating potential. In contrast, a fundamentalist devotion to an ethnic or religious cause denies the possibility of any form of consent. It is not that sado-masochists are only playfully submissive, while in the 'totalitarian' political community, submission is real. If anything, the opposite is the case: in the sadomasochistic contract, the performance is definitely for real and taken absolutely seriously, while the totalitarian submission, with its mask of fanatical devotion, is ultimately fake, a pretence of its opposite. What reveals it as fake is the link between the figure of the totalitarian Master and the superego's injunction: 'Enjoy!'

A good illustration of the way the 'totalitarian' master operates is provided by the logo on the wrapper around German fat-free salami. 'Du darfst!' it says - 'You may!' The new fundamentalisms are not a reaction against the anxiety of excessive freedom that accompanies liberal late capitalism; they do not provide strong prohibitions in a society awash with permissiveness. The cliché about 'escaping from freedom' into a totalitarian haven is profoundly misleading. Nor is an explanation found in the standard Freudo-Marxian thesis according to which the libidinal foundation of totalitarian (fascist) regimes is the 'authoritarian personality' - i.e. someone who finds satisfaction in compulsive obedience. Although, on the surface, the totalitarian master also issues stern orders compelling us to renounce pleasure and to sacrifice ourselves in some higher cause, his effective injunction, discernible between the lines, is a call to unconstrained transgression. Far from imposing on us a firm set of standards to be complied with, the totalitarian master suspends (moral) punishment. His secret injunction is: 'You may.' He tells us that the prohibitions which regulate social life and guarantee a minimum of decency are worthless, just a device to keep the common people at bay - we, on the other hand, are free to let ourselves go, to kill, rape, plunder, but only insofar as we follow the master. (The Frankfurt School discerned this key feature of totalitarianism in its theory of repressive desublimation.) Obedience to the master allows you to transgress everyday moral rules: all the dirty things you were dreaming of, everything you had to renounce when you subordinated yourself to the traditional, patriarchal, symbolic Law you are now allowed to indulge in without punishment, just as you may eat fat-free salami without any risk to your health.

The same underlying suspension of moral prohibitions is characteristic of Post-Modern nationalism. The cliché according to which in a confused, secular, global society, passionate ethnic identification restores a firm set of values should be turned upside down: nationalist fundamentalism works as a barely concealed 'you may'. Our Post-Modern reflexive society which seems hedonistic and permissive is actually saturated with rules and regulations which are intended to serve our well-being (restrictions on smoking and eating, rules against sexual harassment). A passionate ethnic identification, far from further restraining us, is a liberating call of 'you may': you may violate (not the Decalogue, but) the stiff regulations of peaceful coexistence in a liberal tolerant society; you may drink and eat whatever you want, say things prohibited by political correctness, even hate, fight, kill and rape. It is by offering this kind of pseudo-liberation that the superego supplements the explicit texture of the social symbolic law.

The superficial opposition between pleasure and duty is overcome in two different ways. Totalitarian power goes even further than traditional authoritarian power. What it says, in effect, is not, 'Do your duty, I don't care whether you like it or not,' but: 'You must do your duty, and you must enjoy doing it.' (This is how totalitarian democracy works: it is not enough for the people to follow their leader, they must love him.) Duty becomes pleasure. Second, there is the obverse paradox of pleasure becoming duty in a 'permissive' society. Subjects experience the need to 'have a good time', to enjoy themselves, as a kind of duty, and, consequently, feel guilty for failing to be happy. The superego controls the zone in which these two opposites overlap - in which the command to enjoy doing your duty coincides with the duty to enjoy yourself.
http://www.lrb.co.uk/v21/n06/zize01_.html

Siegmund
Thursday, January 20th, 2005, 03:16 PM
Another:



Ideology Today
by Slavov Žižek

The repulsive anti-intellectualist relatives whom one cannot always avoid during holidays, often attack me with common provocations like „What could you as a philosopher tell me about the cup of coffee I am just tasting?“ However, once, when a thrifty relative of mine brought to my son the Kinder Surprise egg and then asked me with a patronizing ironic smile „So what would be your philosophical comment on this egg?“, he got a surprise of his lifetime – a detailed long answer.

Kinder Surprise, one of the most popular chocolate products on sale all around Central Europe, are empty egg shells made of chocolate and wrapped up in lively-colored paper; after one unwraps the egg and cracks the chocolate shell open, one finds in it a small plastic toy (or small parts from which a toy is to be set together). A child who buys this chocolate egg often nervously unwraps it and just breaks the chocolate, not bothering to eat it, worrying only about the toy in the center – is such a chocolate-lover not a perfect case of Lacan's motto »I love you, but, inexplicably, I love something in you more than yourself, and, therefore, I destroy you«? And, effectively, is this toy not l'objet petit a at its purest, the small object filling in the central void of our desire, the hidden treasure, agalma, in the center of the thing we desire?

This material (»real«) void in the center, of course, stands for the structural (»formal«) gap on account of which no product is »really THAT,« no product leaves up to the expectation it arises. In other words, the small plastic toy is not simply different than chocolate (the product we bought); while materially different, it fills in the gap in chocolate itself, i.e. it is on the same surface as the chocolate. As we know already from Marx, commodity is a mysterious entity full of theological caprices, a particular object satisfying a particular need, but at the same time the promise of »something more,« of an unfathomable enjoyment whose true location is fantasy – and all publicity addresses this fantasmatic space (»If you drink X, it will not be just a drink, but also …«). And the plastic toy is the result of a risky strategy to directly materialize, render visible, this mysterious excess: »If you eat our chocolate, you will not just eat a chocolate, but also… have a (totally useless) plastic toy.« The Kinder egg thus provides the formula for all the products which promise »more« (»buy a DVD player and get 5 DVD's for free,« or, in an even more direct form, more of the same - »buy this toothpaste and get one third more for free«), not to mention the standard trick with the Coke bottle (»look on the inside of the metal cover and you may find that you are the winner of one of the prizes, from another free Coke to a brand new car«): the function of this »more« is to fill in the lack of a »less,« to compensate for the fact that, by definition, a merchandise never delivers on its (fantasmatic) promise. In other words, the ultimate »true« merchandise would be the one which would not need any supplement, the one which would simply fully deliver what it promises – »you get what you paid for, neither less nor more.«[1]

This reference to the void in the middle of a desert, the void enveloped by a desert, has a long history.[2] In the Elizabethan England, with the rise of modern subjectivity, the difference emerged between the »substantial« food (meat) eaten in the great banquet hall and the sweet deserts eaten in the separate small room while the tables were cleared (»voided«) in the banquet hall – so the small room in which these deserts were consummated was called »void.« Consequently, the deserts themselves were referred to as »voids,« and, furthermore, in their form, they imitated the shape of the void – sugar cakes in the shape of, usually, an animal, empty in its inside. The emphasis was on the contrast between the »substantial« meal in the large banquet hall and the insubstantial, ornamental, desert in the »void«: the »void« was a »like-meat,« a fake, a pure appearance – say, a sugar peacock which looked like the peacock without being one (the key part of the ritual of consumming it was to violently crack the surface to reveal the void inside). This was the early modern version of today's decaffeinated coffee or artificial sweeteners, the first example of the food deprived of its substance, so that, eating it, one was in a way »eating nothing.« And the further key feature is that this »void« was the space of deploying the »private« subjectivity as opposed to the »public« space of the banquet hall: the “void” was consummated in a place where one withdrew after the public ceremony of the official meal; in this separate place, one was allowed to drop the official masks and let oneself to the relaxed exchange of rumors, impressions, opinions, and confessions, in their entire scope from the trivial to the most intimate. The opposition between the substantial »real thing« and the trifling ornamental appearance which envelopped only the void thus overlapped with the opposition between substance and subject – no wonder that, in the same period, the »void« also functioned as an allusion to the subject itself, the Void beneath the deceptive appearance of social masks. This, perhaps, is the first, culinary, version of Hegel’s famous motto according to which, one should conceive the Absolute „not only as Substance, but also as Subject“: you should eat not only meat and bread, but also good deserts…

Should we not link this use of »void« to the fact that, at exactly the same historic moment, at the dawn of modernity, »zero« as a number was invented – a fact, as Brian Rotman pointed out, linked to the expansion of the commodity exchange, of the production of commodities into the hegemonic form of production, so that the link between void and commodity is here from the beginning.[3] In his classic analysis of the Greek vase in »Das Ding,« to which Lacan also refers in his Ethics of Psychoanalysis, Heidegger also emphasizes how the vase as an emblematic Thing is formed around a central void, i.e., serves as the container of a void[4] – one is thus tempted to read together the Greek vase and the Kinder chocolate egg as designating the two moment of the Thing in the history of the West, the sacred Thing at its dawn, and the ridiculos merchandise at its end: Kinder egg is our vase today… Perhaps, then, the ultimate image condensing the entire »history of the West« would be that of the ancient Greeks offering to gods in the vase… a Kinder egg plastic toy. One should effectively follow here the procedure, practiced by Adorno and Horkheimer in their Dialectics of Enlightenment, of condensing the entire development of the Western civilization into one simple line – from prehistorical magic manipulation to technological manipulation, or from the Greek vase to Kinder egg. ((( Along these lines, the thing to bear in mind is that the Ancient Greek dawn of philosophy occurred at the same time (and place) as the first rise of commodity production and exchange – one of the stories about Thales, the first philosopher, is that, to prove his versatility in »real life,« he got rich on the market, and then returned to his philosophy… The double meaning of the term »speculation« (metaphysical and financial) is thus operative from the very beginning. ))) So, perhaps, one should risk the hypothesis that, historically, the Greek vase to which Heidegger refers already was a commodity, and that it was this fact which accounted for the void in its center, which gives to this void its true resonance - it is as a commodity that a thing is not only itself, but points »beyond itself« to another dimension inscribed inti the thing itself as the central void. Following Beistegui's indications about the secret hegemony of the notion of oikos as closed »house« economy in Heidegger, i.e., about Heidegger's ignorance of the market conditions, of how the market always-already displaces the closed oikos,[5] one could thus say that the vase as das Ding is the ultimate proof of this fact.

No wonder, then, that there is a homology between the Kinder egg, today's »void,« and the abundance of commodities which offer us »X without X,« deprived of its substance (coffee without caffeine, sweetener without sugar, beer without alcohol, etc.): in both cases, we seem to get the surface form deprived of its core. However, more fundamentally, as the reference to the Elizabethan »void« indicates, is not there a clear structural homology between this structure of the commodity and the structure of the bourgeois subject? Do subjects – precisely insofar as they are the subjects of universal Human Rights - also not function as these Kinder chocolate eggs? In France, it is still possible to buy a desert with the racist name »la tete du negre /the nigger's head/«: a ball-like chocolate cake empty in its interior (»like the stupid nigger's head«) – the Kinder egg fills in this void. The lesson of it is that we ALL have »nigger's heads,« with a hole in the centre - would the humanist-universalist reply to the tete du negre, his attempt to deny that we all have »nigger's heads,« not be precisely something like a Kinder egg? As humanist ideologists would have put it: we may be indefinitely different, some of us are black, others white, some tall, other small, some women, other men, some rich, others poor, etc.etc. – yet, deep inside us, there is the same moral equivalent of the plastic toy, the same je ne sais quoi, an elusive X which somehow accounts for the dignity shared by all humans – to quote Francis Fukuyama:

»What the demand for equality of recognition implies is that when we strip all of a person's contingent and accidental characteristics away, there remains some essential human quality underneath that is worthy of a certain minimal level of respect – call it Factor X. Skin, color, looks, social class and wealth, gender, cultural background, and even one's natural talents are all accidents of birth relegated to the class of nonessential characteristics. /…/ But in the political realm we are required to respect people equally on the basis of their possession of Factor X.«[6]

In contrast to transcendental philosophers who emphasize that this Factor X is a sort of »symbolic fiction« with no counterpart in the reality of an individual, Fukuyama heroically locates it into our »human nature,« into our unique genetic inheritance. And, effectively, is genome not the ultimate figure of the plastic toy hidden deep within our human chocolate skin? So it can be a white chocolate, a standard milk chocolate, a dark one, with or without nuts or raisins – inside it, there is always the same plastic toy (in contrast to the Kinder eggs which are the same on the outside, while each has a different toy hidden inside). And, to cut a long story short, what Fukuyama is afraid of is that, if we mess to much into the production of the chocolate egg, we might generate an egg without the plastic toy inside – how? Fukuyama is quite right to emphasize that it is crucial that we experience our »natural« properties as a matter of contingency and luck: if my neighbor is more beautiful or intelligent than me, it is because he was lucky to be born like that, and even his parents could not have planned it that way. The philosophical paradox is that if we take away this element of lucky chance, if our »natural« properties become controlled and regulated by biogenetic and other scientific manipulations, we lose the Factor X.

Of course, the hidden plastic toy can also be given a specific ideological twist – say, the idea that, after one gets rid of the chocolate in all its ethnic variations, one always encounter an American (even if the toy is in all probability made in China). This mysterious X, the inner treasure of our being, can also reveal itself as an alien intruder, an excremental monstrosity even. The anal association is here fully justified: the immediate appearance of the Inner is formless shit.[7] The small child who gives his shit as a present is in a way giving the immediate equivalent of his Factor X. Freud's well-known identification of excrement as the primordial form of gift, of an innermost object that the small child gives to his/her parents, is thus not as naive as it may appear: the often overlooked point is that this piece of myself offered to the Other radically oscillates between the Sublime and - not the Ridiculous, but, precisely - the excremental. This is the reason why, for Lacan, one of the features which distinguishes man from animals is that, with humans, the disposal of shit becomes a problem: not because it has a bad smell, but because it came out from our innermost. We are ashamed of shit because, in it, we expose/externalize our innermost intimacy. Animals do not have a problem with it because they do not have an "interior" like humans. One should refer here to Otto Weininger, who designated volcanic lava as "the shit of the earth."[8] It comes from inside the body, and this inside is evil, criminal: "The Inner of the body is very criminal."[9] Here we encounter the same speculative ambiguity as with penis, organ of urination and procreativity: when our innermost is directly externalized, the result is disgusting. This externalized shit is precisely the equivalent of the alien monster that colonizes the human body, penetrating it and dominating it from within, and which, at the climactic moment of a science-fiction horror movie, breaks out of the body through the mouth or directly through the chest. Perhaps even more exemplary than Ridley Scott's Alien is here Jack Sholder's Hidden, in which the worm-like alien creature forced out of the body at the film's end directly evokes anal associations (a gigantic piece of shit, since the alien compels humans penetrated by It to eat voraciously and belch in an embarrassingly disgusting way).[10]

How does Israel, one of the most militarized societies in the world, succeed in rendering this aspect practically invisible and presenting itself as a tolerant secular liberal society?[11] The ideological presentation of the figure of the Israeli soldier is crucial here; it parasitizes on the more general ideological self-perception of the Israeli individual as ragged, vulgar even, but a warm and considerate human being. We can see here how the very distance towards our ideological identity, the reference to the fact that »beneath the mask of our public identity, there is a warm and frail human being with its weaknesses,« is the fundamental problem of ideology. And the same goes for the Israeli soldier: he is efficient, ready to accomplish the necessary dirty work on the very edge (or even beyond) legality, because this surface conceals a profoundly ethical, sentimental even, person… It is for this reason that the image of the crying soldier plays such an important role in Israel: a soldier who is ruthlessly efficient, but nonetheless occasionally breaks down crying at the acts he is compelled to perform. In psychoanalytic terms, what we have here is the oscillation between the two sides of objet petit a, shit and the precious agalma, the hidden treasure: beneath the excremental surface (vulgar insensitivity, gluttony, stealing shovels and ashtrays from hotels, etc. – all the cliches about Israelis propagated by the Israeli jokes), there is a sensitive core of gold. In terms of our Kinder chocolate example, this means that the chocolate brown shit is here at the outside, envelopping the precious treasure hidden by it.

The Factor X does not only guarantee the underlying identity of different subjects, but also the continuing identity of the same subject. Twenty years ago, National Geographic published the famous photo of a young Afghani woman with fierce bright yellow eyes; in 2001, the same woman was identified in Afghanistan – although her face was changed, worn out from difficult life and heavy work, her intense eyes were instantly recognizable as the factor of continuity. However, two decades ago, the German Leftist weekly journal Stern made a rather cruel experiment which in a way empirically undermined this thesis: it paid a couple of destitute homeless man and woman who allowed themselves to be thoroughly washed, shaved and then delivered to the top designers and hairdressers; in one of its issues, the journal then published two parallel large photos of each person, in his/her destitute homeless habit, dirty and with unshaved faces, and dressed up by a top designer. The result was effectively uncanny: although it was clear that we are dealing with the same person, the effect of the different dress etc. was that this belief of ours that, beneath the different appearance, there is one and the same person was shaken. It is not only the appearance which was different: the deeply disturbing effect of this change of appearances was that we, the spectators, somehow perceived a different personality beneath the appearances… Stern was bombarded by writers' letters accusing the journal of violating the homeless persons' dignity, of humiliating them, submitting them to a cruel joke – however, what was undermined by this experiment was precisely the belief in Factor X, in the kernel of identity which accounts for our dignity and persists through the change of appearances. In short, this experiment in a way empirically demonstrated that we all have a »nigger's head,« that the core of our subjectivity is a void filled in by appearances.

So let us return to the scene of a small kid violently tearing apart and discarding the chocolate ball in order to get at the plastic toy – is he not the emblem of so-called »totalitarianism« which also wants to get rid of the »inessential« historical contingent coating in order to liberate the »essence« of man? Is not the ultimate »totalitarian« vision that of a New Man arising out of the debris of the violent annihilation of the old corrupted humanity? Paradoxically, then, liberalism and »totalitarianism« share the belief into Factor X, the plastic toy in the midst of the human chocolate coating… The problematic point of this Factor X which makes us equal in spite of our differences is clear: beneath the deep humanist insight that, »deep into ourselves, we are all equal, the same vulnerable humans,« is the cynical statement »why bother to fight against surface differences when, deeply, we already ARE equal?« - like the proverbial millionaire who pathetically discovers that he shares the same passions, fears and loves with a destitute beggar.

Perhaps the most seductive strategie with regard to this Factor X is one of the favored intellectuals' exercises throughout the XXth century, namely the urge to »catastrophize« the situation: whatever the actual situation, it HAD to be denounced as »catastrophic,« and the better it appeared, the more it sollicited this exercise – in this way, irrespective of our “merely ontic” differences, we all participate in the same ontological catastrophy. Heidegger denounced the present age as that of the highest »danger,« the epoch of accomplished nihilism; Adorno and Horkheimer saw in it the culmination of the »dialectic of enlightenment« in the »administered world«; up to Giorgio Agamben, who defines the XXth century contentration camps as the »truth« of the entire Western political project. Recall the figure of Horkheimer in the West Germany of the 50s: while denouncing the »eclipse of reason« in the modern Western society of consumption, he AT THE SAME TIME defended this same society as the lone island of freedom in the sea of totalitarianisms and corrupted dictatorships all around the globe. It was as if Winston Churchill's old ironic quip about democracy as the worst possible political regime, and all other regimes worse that it, was here repeated in a serious form: Western »administered society« is barbarism in the guise of civilization, the highest point of alienation, the disintegration of the autonomous individual, etc.etc. – however, all other socio-political regimes are worse, so that, comparatively, one nonetheless has to support it… One is thus tempted to propose a radical reading of this syndrome: what if what the unfortunate intellectuals cannot bear is the fact that they lead a life which is basically happy, safe and comfortable, so that, in order to justify their higher calling, they HAVE to construct a scenario of radical catastrophy? And, effectively, Adorno and Horkheimer are here strangely close to Heidegger:

»The most violent 'catastrophes' in nature and in the cosmos are nothing in the order of Unheimlichkeit in comparison with that Unheimlichkeit which man is in himself, and which, insofar as man is placed in the midst of beings as such and stands for beings, consists in forgetting being, so that for him das Heimische becomes empty erring, which he fills up with his dealings. The Unheimlichkeit of the Unheimischkeit lies in that man, in his very essence, is a katastrophe – a reversal that turns him away from the genuine essence. Man is the only catastrophe in the midst of beings.«[12]

The first thing which cannot but strikea philosopher's eye here is the implicite reference to the Kantian Sublime: in the same way that, for Kant, the most violent outbursts in nature are nothing in comparison with the power of the moral Law, for Heidegger, the most violent catastrophes in nature and social life are nothing in comparison with the catastrophy which is man itself – or, as Heidegger would have put it in his other main rhetorical figure, the essence of catastrophy has nothing to do with ontic catastrophes, since the essence of catastrophy is the catastrophy of the essence itself, its withdrawal, its forghetting by man. (Does this include holocaust? Is it possible to claim, in a non-obscene way, that holocaust is nothing in comparison with the catastrophy of the forgetting of being?) The (ambiguous) difference is that while, for Kant, natural violence renders palpable in a negative way the sublime dimension of the moral Law, for Heidegger, the other term of the comparison is the catastrophy that is man himself. The further ambiguous point is that Kant sees a positive aspect of the experience f the catastrophic natural outbursts: in witnessing them, we experience in a negative way the incomparable sublime grandeur of the moral Law, while in Heidegger, it is not clear that we need the threat (or fact) of an actual ontic catastrophy in order to experience in a negative way the true catastrophy that pertains to human essence as such. (Is this difference linked to the fact that, in the experience of the Kantian Sublime, the subject assumes the role of the observer perceiving the excessive natural violence from a safe distance, not being directly threatened by it, while this distance is lacking in Heidegger?)

It is easy to make fun of Heidegger here - there is, however, a »rational kernel« in his formulations. Although Adorno and Horkheimer would dismiss these formulations with scathing laughter, are they not caught in the same predicament? When they delineate the contours of the emerging late-capitalist »administered world /verwaltete Welt/,« they are presenting it as coinciding with barbarism, as the point at which civilization itself returns to barbarism, as a kind of negative telos of the whole progress of Enlightenment, as the Nietzschean kingdom of the Last Men: »One has one's little pleasure for the day and one's little pleasure for the night: but one has a regard for health. 'We have invented happiness,' say the last men, and they blink.«[13] However, at the same time, they nonetheless warn against the more direct »ontic« catastrophies (different forms of terror, etc.). The liberal-democratic society of Last Men is thus literally the worst possible, the only problem being that all other societies are worst, so that the choice appears as the one between Bad and Worse. The ambiguity is here irreducible: on the one hand, the »administred world« is the final catastrophic outcome of the Enlightenment; on the other hand, the »normal« run of our societies is continually threatened by catastrophies, from war and terror to ecological outbreaks, so that while one should fight these »ontic« catastrophies, one should simultaneously bear in mind that the ultimate catastrophy is the very »normal« run of the »administered world« in the absence of any »ontic« catastrophy.[14] The aporia is here genuine: the solution of this ambiguity through some kind of pseudo-Hegelian »infinite judgement« asserting the ultimate coincidence between the subjects of the late capitalist consummerist society and the victims of the holocaust (»Last Men are Muslims«) clearly does not work. The problem is that there is no pathetic identification possible with the Muslims (the living dead of the concentration camps) – one cannot say »We are all Muslims« in the same way ten years ago we often heard the phrase »We all live in Sarajevo,« things went too far in Auschwitz. (And, in the opposite direction, it would also be ridiculous to assert one's solidarity with 9/11 by claiming »We are all New Yorkers!« – millions in the Third World would say »Yes!«)

How, then, are we to deal with actual ethical catastrophies? When, two decades ago, Helmut Kohl, in order to designate the predicament of those Germans born too late to be involved in the holocaust, used the phrase »the mercy of the late birth /die Gnade des spaeten Geburt/,« many commentators rejected this formulation as a sign of moral ambiguity and opportunism, signalling that today's German can dismiss the holocaust as simply outside the scope of their responsibility. However, Kohl's formulation does touch a paradoxical nerve of morality baptized by Bernard Williams »moral luck.«[15] Williams evokes the case of a painter ironically called »Gauguin« who left his wife and children and moved to Tahiti in order to fully develop there his artistic genius – was he morally justified in doing this or not? Williams' answer is that we can only answer this question IN RETROSPECT, after we learn the final outcome of his risky decision: did he develop into a painting genius or not? As Jean-Pierre Dupuy pointed out,[16] we encounter the same dilemma apropos of the urgency to do something about today's threat of different ecological catastrophies: either we take this threat seriously and decide today to do things which, if the catastrophy will not occur, will appear ridiculous, or we do nothing and lose everything in the case of the catastrophy, the worst case being the choice an a middle ground, of taking a limited amount of measures – in this case, we will fail whatever will occur (that is to say, the problem is that there is no middle ground with regard to the ecological catastrophy: either it will occur or it will not occur). Such a predicament would horrify a radical Kantian: it renders the moral value of an act dependent on thoroughly »pathological« conditions, i.e., on its utterly contingent outcome – in short, when I make a difficult decision which involves an ethical deadlock, I can only say: »If I lucky, my present act WILL HAVE BEEN ethical!« However, is not such a »pathological« support of our ethical stance an a priori necessity – not only in the common sense that, if we (most of us, at least) are to retain our ethical composure, we should have the luck of not being exposed to excessive pressures of temptations (a large majority of us would commit the worst betrayal when tortured in a horrifyingly cruel way). When, in our daily lives, we retain our ethical pride and dignity, we act under the protection of the FICTION that we would remain faithful to the ethical stance also under harsh conditions; the point here is not that we should mistrust ourselves and doubt our ethical stance, but, rather, that we should adopt the attitude of the Philosopher Alonzo in Mozart's Cosi fan tutte, who advises the two deceived lovers: »Trust women, but do not expose them to too many temptations!«

It is easy to discern how our sense of dignity relies on the disavowal of the »pathological« facts of which we are well aware, but nonetheless we suspend their symbolic efficiency. Imagine a dignified leader: if he is caught by camera in an »undignified« situation (crying, throwing up, this can ruin his career, although such situations are parts of the daily life of all of us. At a slightly different level, recall the high art of the skilled politicians who know how to make themselves absent when a humiliating decision was to be made; in this way, they are able to leave intact the unconscious belief of their followers in their omnipotence, sustaining the illusion that, if they were not accidentally prevented from being there, they would have been able to save the day. Or, at a more personal level, imagine a young couple on their first date, the boy trying to impress the girl, and then they encounter a strong bullying male who harasses the girl and humiliates the boy who is afraid to frontally oppose the intruder; such an incident can ruin the entire relationship - the boy will avoid ever seeing the girl again, since she will forever remind him of his humiliation.

However, beyond the Brechtian fact that »morality is for those who are lucky enough of being able to afford it,« there is a more radical gray zone best exemplified by the figure of Musulmanen (»Muslims«) from the Nazi concentration camps: they are the "zero-level" of humanity, a kind of "living dead" who even cease to react to the basic animal stimuli, who do not defend themselves when attacked, who gradually even lose thirst and hunger, eating and drinking more out of a blind habit then on account of some elementary animal need. For this reason, they are the point of the Real without symbolic Truth, i.e., there is no way to "symbolize" their predicament, to organize it into a meaningful life-narrative. However, it is easy to perceive the danger of these descriptions: they inadvertently reproduce and thus attest the very "dehumanization" imposed on them by the Nazis. Which is why one should insist more than ever on their humanity, without forgetting that they are in a way dehumanized, deprived of the essential features of humanity: the line that separates the "normal" human dignity and engagement from the Muslim's "inhuman" indifference is inherent to "humanity," which means that there is a kind of inhuman traumatic kernel or gap in the very midst of "humanity" itself - to put it in Lacanian terms, the Muslims are "human" in an ex-timate way. What this means is that, as Agamben was right to emphasize, the "normal" rules of ethics are suspended here: we cannot simply deplore their fate, regretting that they are deprived of the basic human dignity, since to be "decent," to retain "dignity," in front of a Muslim is in itself an act of utter indecency. One cannot simply ignore the Muslim: any ethical stance that does not confront the horrifying paradox of the Muslim is by definition unethical, an obscene travesty of ethics - and once we effectively confront the Muslim, notions like "dignity" are somehow deprived of their substance. In other words, "Muslim" is not simply the "lowest" in the hierarchy of ethical types ("they not only have no dignity, they even lost their animal vitality and egotism"), but the zero-level which renders the whole hierarchy meaningless. Not to take into account this paradox is to participate in the same cynicism that the Nazis themselves practiced when they first brutally reduced the Jews to the subhuman level and then presented this image as the proof of their subhumanity - they extrapolated to the extreme the standard procedure of humiliation, in which I, say, take the belt of the trousers of a dignified person, thus forcing him to hold his trousers by his hands, and then mock him as undignified… In this precise sense, our moral dignity is ultimately always a fake: it depends on our being lucky to avoid the fate of the Muslim. This fact, perhaps, also accounts for the “irrational” feeling of guilt which haunted the survivors of the Nazi camps: what the survivors were compelled to confront at its purest was not the utter contingency of survival, but, more radically, the utter contingency of our retaining the moral dignity, the most precious kernel of our personality, according to Kant.

This, perhaps, is also the principal lesson of the XXth century concerning ethics: one should abandon all ethical arrogance and humbly accept the luck to be able to act ethically. Or, to put it in theological terms: far from being opposed, autonomy and grace are intertwined, i.e., we are blessed by grace when we are able to act autonomously as ethical agents. And we have to rely on the same mixture of grace and courage when facing the PROSPECT of a catastrophy. In his »Two Sources of Morality and Religion,« Henri Bergson describes the strange sensations he experienced on August 4 1914, when war was declared between France and Germany: »In spite of my turmoil, and although a war, even a victorious one, appeared to me as a catastrophy, I experienced what /William/ James spoke about, a feeling of admiration for the facility of the passage from the abstract to the concret: who would have thought that such a formidable event can emerge in reality with so little fuss?«[17] Crucial is here the modality of the break between before and after: before its outburst, the war appeared to Brergson »simultaneously probable and impossible: a complex and contradictory notion which persisted to the end«[18]; after its outburst, it all of a sudden become real AND possible, and the paradox resides in this retroactive appearance of probability:

»I never pretended that one can insert reality into the past and thus work backwards in time. However, one can without any doubt insert there the possible, or, rather, at every moment, the possible insert itself there. Insofar as inpredictable and new reality creates itself, its image reflects itself behind itself in the indefinite past: this new reality finds itself all the time having been possible; but it is only at the precise moment of its actual emergence that it begins to always have been, and this is why I say that its possibility, which does not precede its reality, will have preceded it once this reality emerges.«[19]

The encounter of the real as impossible is thus always missed: either it is experienced as impossible but not real (the prospect of a forthcoming catastrophy which, however probable we know it is, we do not believe it will effectively occur and thus dismiss it as impossible), or as real but no longer impossible (once the catastrophy occurs, it is »renormalized,« perceived as part of the normal run of things, as always-already having been possible). And, as Jean-Pierre Dupuy makes it clear, the gap which makes these paradoxes possible is the one between knowledge and belief: we KNOW the catastrophy is possible, probable even, yet we do not BELIEVE it will really happen.[20]

What such experiences show is the limitation of the ordinary »historical« notion of time: at each moment of time, there are multiple possibilities waiting to be realized; once one of them actualizes itself, others are cancelled. The supreme case of such an agent of the historical time is the Leibnizean God who created the best possible world: before creation, he had in his mind the entire panoply of possible worlds, and his decision consisted in chosing the best one among these options. Here, the possibility precedes choice: the choice is a choice among possibilities. What is unthinkable within this horizon of linear historical evolution is the notion of a choice/act which retroactively opens up its own possibility: the idea that the emergence of a radically New retroactively changes the past – of course, not the actual past (we are not in science fiction), but the past possibilities, or, to put it in more formal terms, the value of the modal propositions about the past – exactly what happens in the case described by Bergson. [21] Dupuy's point is that, if we are to confront properly the threat of a (cosmic or environmental) catastrophy, we need to break out of this »historical« notion of temporality: we have to introduce a new notion of time. Dupuy calls this time the »time of a project,« of a closed circuit between the past and the future: the future is causally produced by our acts in the past, while the way we act is determined by our anticipation of the future and our reaction to this anticipation. This circuit, of course, generates the host of the well-known paradoxes of self-realizing prophecy etc.: if we expect X to occur and act accordingly, X will effectively occur. More interesting are the negative versions: if we expect/predict X (a catastrophy) and act against it, to prevent it, the outcome will be the same if the catastrophy effectively occurs or does not occur. If it occurs, our preventive acts will be dismissed as irrelevant (»you cannot fight destiny«); if it does not occur, it will be the same, i.e., since the catastrophy (into which we did not believe, in spite of our knowledge) was perceived as impossible, our preventive acts will be again dismissed irrelevant (recall the aftermath of the Millenium Bug!). Is, then, this second option the only choice to follow as a rational strategy? One paints the prospect of a catastrophy and then one acts to prevent it, with the hope that the very success of our preventive acts will render the prospect which prompted us to act ridiculous and irrelevant – one should heroically assume the role of excessive panic-monger in order to save humanity… However, the circle is not totally closed: back in the 1970s, Bernard Brodie pointed the way out of this deadlock of the closed circle apropos the strategy of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) in the old War:

»It is a strange paradox of our time that one of the crucial factors which make the /nuclear/ dissuasion effectively function, and function so well, is the underlying fear that, in a really serious crisis, it can fail. In such circumstances, one does not play with fate. If we were absolutely certain that the nuclear dissuasion is one hundred per cent efficient in its role of protecting us against a nuclear assault, then its dissuasive value against a conventional war would have dropped to close to zero.«[22]

The paradox is here a very precise one: the MAD strategy works not because it is perfect, but on account of its very imperfection. That is to say, a perfect strategy (if one sides nukes the other, the other will automatically respond, and both sides will thus be destroyed) has a fatal flaw: what if the attacking side counts on the fact that, even after its first strike, the opponent continues to act as a rational agent? His choice is now: with his country mostly destroyed, he can either strike back, thus causing total catastrophy, the end of humanity, or NOT STRIKE BACK, thus enabling the survival of humanity and thereby at least the possibility of a later revibal of his own country? A rational agent would chose the second option… What makes the strategy efficient is the very fact that we cannot ever be sure that it will work perfectly: what if a situation spirals out of control for a variety of easily imaginable reasons (from the »irrational« aggressivity of the one part to simple technological failures or miscommunications)? It is because of this permanent threat that both sides do not want to come even too close to the prospect of MAD, so they avoid even conventional war: if the strategy were perfect, it would, on the opposite, endorse the attitude »Let's fight a full conventional war, since we both know that no side will risk the fateful step towards a nuclear strike!« So the actual constellation of MAD is not »If we follow the MAD strategy, the nuclear catastrophy will not take place,« but: »If we follow the MAD strategy, the nuclear catastrophy will not take place, expect for some imprevisible incident.« And the same goes today for the prospect of the ecological catastrophy: if we do nothing, it will occur, and if we do all we can do, it will not occur, expect for some imprevisible accident. This »imprevisible factor e« is precisely the remainder of the Real which disturbs the perfect self-closure of the »time of the project« – if we write this time as a circle, it is a cut which prevents the full closure of the circle (exactly the way Lacan writes l'objet petit a). What confirms this paradoxical status of e is that, in it, possibility and impossibility, positive and negative, coincide: it renders the strategy of prevention effective precisely insofar as it hinders its full efficiency.

It is thus crucial not to perceive this »catastrophist strategy« in the old terms of linear historical causality: it does not work because today, we are faced with multiple possibilities of future, and, within this multitude, we chose the option to act as to prevent a catastrophy. Since the catastrophy cannot be »domesticated« as just another possibility, the only option is to posit it as real: »one has to inscribe the catastrophy into the future in a much more radical way. One has to render it unavoidable.«[23]

What one should introduce here is the notion of minimal »alienation« constitutive of the symbolic order and of the social field as such: although I KNOW very well that the future fate of me and the society in which I live causally depends on the present activity of millions of individuals like me, I nonetheless BELIEVE in destiny, i.e. I believe that the future is run by an anonymous power independent of the will and acts of any individual. »Alienation« consists in the minimal »objectivization« on account of which I abstract from my active role and perceive historical process as an »objective« process which follows its path independently of my plans. (At a different level, the same goes for the individual agent on the market: while fully aware that the price of a product on the market depends (also) on his acts, his selling and buying, he nonetheless holds the price of a product there for fixed, perceiving it as a given quantity to which he then reacts.) The point, of course, is that these two levels intersect: in the present, I do not act blindly, but I react to the prospect of what the future will be.

This paradox designates the symbolic order as the order of virtuality: although it is an order which has no existence „in itself,“ independently of individuals who relate to it, i.e., as Hegel put it apropos of the social substance, although it is actual only in the acts of the individuals, it is nonetheless their SUBSTANCE, the objective In-itself of their social existence. This is how one should understand the Hegelian „In- and For-Itself“: while it is In-itself, existing independently of the subject, it is „posited“ as independent by the subject, i.e., it exists independently of the subject only insofar as the subject acknowledges it as such, only insofar as the subject relates to it as independent. For this reason, far from signalling a simple „alienation,“ the reign of the dead spectres over living subjects, this “autonomization” is coexistent with ethics: people sacrifice their lives for this virtuality. Dupuy is therefore right to emphasize that one should reject here the simplistic Marxist »critique« which aims at »sublating« this alienation, transforming society into a self-transparent body within which individuals directly realize their collective projects, without the detour of »destiny« (the position attributed to the Lukacs of History and Class Consciousness): a minimum of »alienation« is the very condition of the symbolic order as such.

One should thus invert the existentialist commonplace according to which, when we are engaged in a present historical process, we perceive it as full of possibilities and ourselves as agents free to choose among them, while, for a retroactive view, the same process appears as fully determined and necessary, with no opening for alternatives: it is, on the contrary, the engaged agents who perceive themselves as caught in a Destiny, merely reacting to it, while, retroactively, from the standpoint of later observation, we can discern alternatives in the past, possibilities of the events taking a different path. (And is the paradox of Predestination – the fact that the theology of predestination legitimized the frantic activity of capitalism – not the ultimate confirmation of this paradox?) This is how Dupuy proposes to confront the catastrophy: we should first perceive it as our fate, as unavoidable, and then, projecting ourself into it, adopting its standpoint, we should retroactively insert into its past (the past of the future) counterfactual possibilities (»If we were to do that and that, the catastrophy we are in now would not have occurred!«) upon which we then act today. And is not a supreme case of the reversal of positive into negative destiny the shift from the classical historical materialism into the attitude of Adorno's and Horkheimer's »dialectic of Enlightenment«? While the traditional Marxism enjoined us to engage ourselves and act in order to bring about the necessity (of Communism), Adorno and Horkheimer projected themselves into the final catastrophic outcome perceived as fixed (the advent of the »administered society« of total manipulation and end of subjectivity) in order to solicit us to act against this outcome in our present.

Such a strategy is the very opposite of the USA attitude in the “war on terror,” that of avoiding the threat by preventively striking at potential enemies. In Spielberg’s Minority Report, criminals are arrested even before they commit their crime, since three humans who, through monstrous scientific experiments, acquired the capacity to foresee the future, can exactly predict their acts – is a parallel not clear with the new Cheney doctrine, which proclaims the policy of attacking a state or enemy force even before this state develops the means to pose a threat to the US, i.e., already at the point when it MIGHT develop into such a threat?[24] And, to pursue the homology even further, was Gerhard Schroeder’s disagreement with the US plans to preventively attack Iraq not precisely a kind of real-life “minority report,” signaling his disagreement with the way others saw the future? The state in which we live now, in the “war on terror,” is the one of the endlessly suspended terrorist threat: the Catastrophy (the new terrorist attack) is taken for granted, yet endlessly postponed. Whatever will actually happen, even if it will be a much more horrible attack than that of 9/11, will not yet be “that.” And it is crucial here that we accomplish the “transcendental” turn: the true catastrophy ALREADY IS this live under the shadow of the permanent threat of a catastrophy.

Terry Eagleton recently drew attention to the two opposed modes of tragedy: the big, spectacular catastrophic Event, the abrupt irruption from some other world, and the dreary persistence of a hopeless condition, the blighted existence which goes on indefinitely, life as one long emergency.[25] This is the difference between the big First World catastrophies like September 11 and the dreary permanent catastrophy of, say, Palestinians in the West Bank. The first mode of tragedy, the figure against the “normal” background, is characteristic of the First World, while in much of the Third World, catastrophy designates the all-present background itself.

And this is how the September 11 catastrophy effectively functioned: as a catastrophic figure which made us, in the West, aware of the blissful background of our happiness, AND of the necessity to defend it against the foreigners’ onslaught… in short, it functioned exactly according to Chesterton’s principle of Conditional Joy: to the question “Why this catastrophy? Why couldn’t we be happy all the time?”, the answer is “And why should we be happy all the remaining time?” September 11 served as a proof that we are happy and that others ENVY us this happiness. Along these lines, one should thus risk the thesis that, far from shattering the US from its ideological sleep, September 11 was used as a sedative enabling the hegemonic ideology to “renormalize” itself: the period after the Vietman war was one long sustended trauma for the hegemonic ideology – it had to defend itself against critical doubts, the gnawing worms was continuously at work and couldn’t be simply suppressed, every return to innocence was immediately experienced as a fake… until September 11, when US was a victim and thus allowed to reassert the innocence of its mission. In short, far from awakening us, September 11 served to put us to sleep again, to continue our dream after the nightmare of the last decades.

The ultimate irony is here that, in order to restore the innocence of the American patriotism, the conservative US establishment mobilized the key ingredient of the Politically Correct ideology which it officially despises: the logic of victimization. Relying on the idea that authority is conferred (only on) those who speak from the position of the VICTIM, it relied on the implicit reasoning: “We are now victims, and it is this fact that legitimizes us to speak (and act) from the position of authority.” So when, today, we hear the slogan that the liberal dream of the 1990s is over, that, with the attacks on the WTC, we were violently thrown back into the real world, that the easy intellectual games are over, we should remember that such a call to confront the harsh reality is ideology at its purest. Today’s “American, awaken!” is a distant call of Hitler’s “Deutschland, erwache!”, which, as Adorno wrote long ago, meant its exact opposite.

However, this regained innocence of the American patriotism is only one of the versions of the standard procedure of liberals when confronted with a violent conflict: the adoption of the safe distance from which all sides which participate in the conflict are equally condemned, since “no one’s hands are pure.” One can always play this game, which offers the player a double gain: that of retaining his moral superiority over those (ultimately all the same) involved in the struggle, as well as that of being able to avoid the difficult task of engaging oneself, of analyzing the constellation and taking sides in it. In recent years, it is as if the post-World-War-II anti-Fascist pact is slowly cracking: from historians-revisionists to New Right populists, taboos are falling down... Paradoxically, those who undermine this pact refer to the very liberal universalized logic of victimization: sure, there were victims of Fascism, but what about other victims of the post-WWII expulsions? What about the Germans evicted from their homes in Czechoslovakia in 1945? Do they also not have some right to (financial) compensation?[26] THIS weird conjunction of money and victimization is one of the forms (perhaps even the truth) of money fetishism today: while one accentuates that holocaust was the absolute crime, everyone negotiates about appropriate FINANCIAL recompensations for it… One of the great topoi of the “deconstructionist” critique of ideology is that notion of the autonomous free and responsible subject is a legal fiction whose function is to construct an agent to whom the responsibility for socially unacceptable acts can be attributed, thus obfuscating the need for a closer analysis of concrete social circumstances which give rise to phenomena perceived as deplorable. When an unemployed African-American who suffered a series of humiliations and failures steals in order to feed his family or explodes in an uncontrollable violence, is it not cynical to evoke his responsibility as an autonomous moral agent? However, the old rule about ideology holds here also: the symmetrical inversion of an ideological proposition is no less ideological – are we not dealing today with the opposite tendency of putting the blame (and thus legal responsibility) on external agencies? Here is the Associated Press item from July 26 2002:

“Obesity Cited in Fast Food Suit. A man sued four leading fast food chains, claiming he became obese and suffered from other serious health problems from eating their fatty cuisine. Caesar Barber, 56, filed a lawsuit Wednesday in Bronx Supreme Court, naming McDonald's, Wendy's, Burger King and Kentucky Fried Chicken. "They said `100 percent beef.' I thought that meant it was good for you," Barber told Newsday. "I thought the food was OK. Those people in the advertisements don't really tell you what's in the food. It's all fat, fat and more fat. Now I'm obese." Barber, who weighs 272 pounds, had heart attacks in 1996 and 1999 and has diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. He said he ate fast food for decades, believing it was good for him until his doctor cautioned him otherwise.”

The underlying message of this complaint is clear: I am in it for nothing, it is not me, I am just a passive victim of circumstances, the responsibility is not mine – and since it is not me, there HAS to be another legally responsible for my misfortune. This is also what is wrong with the so-called False Memory Syndrome: the compulsive endeavor to ground present psychic troubles in some past real experience of sexual molestation. Again, the true stake of this operation is the subject’s refusal to accept responsibility for his sexual investments: if the cause of my disorders is the traumatic experience of harassment, then my own fantasmatic investment in my sexual imbroglio is secondary and ultimately irrelevant.

The question is here: how far can we go along this path? Pretty far, according to recent news. Is it not significant that when the holocaust is lately mentioned in the media, the news as a rule concern financial compensation, the amount the victims or their descendants should get from the legal successors of the perpetrators. And, since Jews are the wronged group par excellence, no wonder that other wronged groups are also making similar claims – see the following AP item from August 17 2002:

“Rally for Slave Reparations - Hundreds of blacks rallied in front of the Capitol on Saturday to demand slavery reparations, saying that compensation is long overdue for the ills of that institution. "It seems that America owes black people a lot for what we have endured," Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan told the crowd. "We cannot settle for some little jive token. We need millions of acres of land that black people can build. We're not begging white people, we are just demanding what is justly ours.”

And would it not be quite logical to envision, along the same lines, the end of class struggle: after long and arduous negotiations, representatives of the working class and of the global capital should reach an agreement on how much the working class should get as compensation for the surplus-value appropriated by capitalists in the course of history? So, if there seems to be a price for everything, why should we not go to the very end and demand from God Himself a payment for botching up the job of creation and thus causing our misery? And what if, perhaps, He already paid this price by sacrificing his only son, Christ? It is a sign of our times that this option was already considered in a work of fiction: in The Man Who Sued God, a new Australian comedy from 2002, Billy Connolly plays the owner of a seaside caravan park whose boat is destroyed in a freak storm; his insurance people tell him it's an act of God and refuse to pay up. Enter a sharp-witted lawyer (Judy Davis) who comes up with a clever argument: If God destroyed his boat, why not sue God in the form of his representatives here on earth - the churches. Such a lawsuit puts the church leaders in a tight spot: if they deny that they are God's representatives on earth, they all lose their jobs; they can't assert that God does not exist because that would also destroy organised religion, and, furthermore, if God does not exist, what happens to the escape route of the "Act of God" clause that lets so many insurance sharks off the hook?

This reductio ad absurdum also makes it clear what is fundamentally wrong with this logic: it is not too radical, but not radical enough. The true task is not to get compensation from those responsible, but to deprive them of the position which makes them responsible. Instead of asking for compensation from God (or the ruling class or), one should ask the question: do we really need God? What this means is something much more radical than it may appear: there is no one to turn to, to address, to bear witness TO, no one to receive our plea or lament. This position is extremely difficult to sustain: in modern music, only Webern was able to sustain this inexistence of the Other: even Schoenberg was still composing for a future ideal listener, while Webern accepted that there is NO »proper« listener.

Contrary to all appearances, this is what happens in psychoanalysis: the treatment is over when the patient assumes the non-existence of the big Other. The ideal addressee of our speech, the ideal listener, is the psychoanalyst, the very opposite of the Master figure which guarantees meaning; what happens at the end of the analysis, with the dissolution of transference, i.e., the fall of the »subject supposed to know,« is that the patient accepts the absence of such a guarantee. No wonder that psychoanalysis subverts the very principle of reimbursement: the price the patient pays for the treatment is by definition capricious, »unjust,« with no equivalence possible between it and the services rendered for it. This is also why psychoanalysis is profoundly anti-Levinasian: there is no face-to-face encounter between the patient and the analyst, since the patient lies on the couch and the analyst sits behind him - analysis penetrates the deepest mysteries of the subject by by-passing the face. This avoiding of the face-to-face enables the patient to »lose his face« and blurt out the most embarassing details. In this precise sense, face is a fetish: while it appears to point towards the imperfect vulnerable abyss of the person behind the object-body, it conceals the obscene real core of the subject.

Is, then, Christianity here not the very opposite of psychoanalysis? Does it not stand for this logic of reimbursement brought to its extreme: God himself pays the price for all our sins? Which is why any attempt to paint the Christian God as an undemanding entity of pure mercy whose message is »I don't want anything from you!«, miserably fails – one should not forget that these, exactly, are the words used by the Priest to designate the ourt in Kafka's Trial: »The court wants nothing from you.« When the falsely innocent Christ-like figure of pure suffering and sacrifice for our good tells us »I don't want anything from you!«, we can be sure that this statement conceals a qualification »… expect YOUR SOUL ITSELF.« When somebody insists that he wants nothing that we have, it simply means that he has his eyes on what we ARE, on the very core of our being. Or, to go to the more anecdotal level, is it not clear that when, in a lover's quarrel, a woman answers the man's desperate »But what do you want from me?« with »Nothing!«, this means its exact opposite, a demand for total surrender beyond any negotiated settlement?[27] „Do not look into the mouth of a horse given to you as a gift“ – is this precisely not what one SHOULD do in order to discern if one is dealing with a true gift or with a secretly instrumentalized one? You are given a present, yet a close look quickly tells you that this „free“ gift is aimed at putting you in a position of permanent debt – and, perhaps, this holds especially for the notion of gift in the recent theological turn of deconstruction, from Derrida to Marion.

At the very core of Christianity, there is another dimension. When Christ dies, what dies with him is the secret hope discernible in »Father, why have you forsaken me?«, the hope that there IS a father who abandoned me. The »Holy Spirit« is the community deprived of its support in the big Other. The point of Christianity as the religion of atheism is not the vulgar humanist one that the becoming-man-of-God reveals that man is the secret of God (Feuerbach et al); it rather attacks the religious hard core which survives even in humanism, up to Stalinism with its believe in the History as the »big Other« which decides on the »objective meaning« of our deeds.

In what is perhaps the highest example of the Hegelian Aufhebung, it is possible today to redeem this core of Christianity only in the gesture of abandoning the shell of its institutional organization (and, even more, of its specific religious experience). The gap is here irreducible: either one drops the religious form OR maintains the form, but loses the essence. Therein resides the ultimate heroic gesture that awaits Christianity: in order to save its treasure, it has to sacrifice itself, like Christ who had to die so that Christianity emerged.


NOTES

[1] No wonder, then, that these eggs are now prohibited in the US and have to be smuggled from Canada (and sold at a triple price): behind the official pretext (they solicit you to buy another object, not the one publicized), it is easy to discern the deeper reason – these eggs display to openly the inherent structure of a commodity.

[2] See Chapter 4 (Consuming the Void) in Patricia Fumerton, Cultural Aesthetics, Chicago: Chicago University Press 1991.

[3] See Brian Rotman, Signifying Nothing, London: MacMillan 1987.

[4] See Martin Heidegger, „Das Ding,“ in Vortraege und Aufsetze, Pfullingen: Neske 1954.

[5] See Miguel de Beistegui, Heidegger and the Political, London: Routledge 1998.

[6] Francis Fukuyama, , Our Posthuman Future, London: Profile Books 2002, p. 149-150.

[7]. See Dominique Laporte, History of Shit, Cambridge (Ma): The MIT Press 2000.

[8]. Otto Weininger, Ueber die letzten Dinge, Muenchen: Matthes und Seitz Verlag 1997, p. 187.

[9]. Op.cit., p. 188.

[10]. There is, of course, also the opposite way to exploit the example of Kinder eggs: why not focus on the fact that the chocolate cover is always the same, while the toy in the middle is always different (which is why the name of the product is »Kinder Surprise«) – is this not how it is with human beings? We may look similar, but inside, there is a mystery of our psyche, each of us hides an inner wealth of abyssal proportions. Also, one could use the fact that the plastic toy is to be composed of small part – in the same way we are supposed to form our ego.

[11] In what follows, I rely on a conversation with Noam Yuran, Tel Aviv.

[12] Martin Heidegger, „Hoelderlin’s Hymne ‚Der Ister‘,“ Gesamtausgabe 53, Frankfurt: Klostermann 1984, p. 94.

[13] Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, quoted from The Portable Nietzsche, New York: Viking 1968, p. 130.

[14] Interestingly enough, the same goes for Heidegger’s critique of psychoanalysis: what cannot but attract our attention are the two levels at which it operates. On the one hand, there is the easy philosophical game of transcendental dismissal (which can even be accompanied by a patronizing admission of its use for the medical purposes): “Although psychoanalysis can be of clinical use, it remains an ontic science grounded in the physicalist and biologist naïve presuppositions characteristic of the end of XIXth century.” On the other hand, there are concrete rebuttals, concrete attempts to demonstrate its insufficiency – say, how Freud, by focusing all too fast on the unconscious causal chain, misses the point of the phenomenon he is interpreting, etc. How are these two procedures related? Is the second one just an unnecessary surplus or a necessary supplement, an implicit admission that the direct philosophical rejection is not sufficient? Do we not find here, at a different level, reproduced the ambiguity of the notion of catastrophy, at the same time an ontological fact which always-already occurred AND an ontic threat?

[15] See Bernard Williams, Moral Luck, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1981.

[16] See Jean-Pierre Dupuy, Pour un catastrophisme eclaire, Paris: Editions du Seuil 2002, p. 124-126.

[17] Henri Bergson, Oeuvres, Paris: PUF 1991, p. 1110-1111.

[18] Bergson, ibid.

[19] Bergson, op.cit., p. 1340.

[20]Dupuy, op.cit, p. 142-3.

[21] There is, of course, also an ideological way of projecting/inserting possibilities into the past. The attitude of many a libertarian Leftist about the disintegration of Yugoslavia is: “The full sovereignty of the ex-Yugoslav republics may be a legitimate goal in itself, but what is worth the price – hundreds of thousands dead, destruction…?” What is false here is that the actual choice in the late 1980s is silently reformulated, as if it was: “Either disintegration of Yugoslavia into separate states – OR the continuation of the old Tito’s Yugoslavia.” With the advent to power of Milosevic, the old Yugoslavia was over, so the only THIRD way with regard to the alternative “Sovereign republics or Serboslavia” was, in a true political AT, to reinvent thoroughly a new Yugoslav project, for which there was no ability and will in any of the parts of Yugoslavia.

[22] Bernard Brodie, War and Politics, New York: Macmillan 1973, p. 430-431, quoted from Dupuy, op.cit., p. 208-209.

[23] Dupuy, op.cit., p. 164.

[24] The difference between the Cold War enemy and today’s terrorist used to justify America’s right to preemptive strikes is the alleged “irrationality” of the terrorist: while Communists were cold rational calculators who cared for their own survival, fundamentalist terrorists are irrational fanatics ready to blow up entire world… Here, more than ever, one should insist that (as Hegel would have put it) such a figure of the “irrational” enemy is a “reflexive determination” of American’s own self-adopted position of the sole hegemonic world power.

[25] See Terry Eagelton, Sweet Violence, Oxford: Blackwell 2003.

[26] And does the same not hold also for anti-abortion campaigns? Do they also not participate in the liberal logic of global victimization, extending it also to the unborn?

[27] The Polish Wedding, a nice melodrama about love life complications in a Detroit working class Polish family, contains a scene which turns around this formula and thus spills out its truth: when Claire Danes‘ exasperated boyfriend asks her „What do you want from me?,“ she answers „I want everything!“ and calmly walks away from him.
http://www.zizek.com/zize-com.htm

Oskorei
Friday, February 11th, 2005, 12:13 PM
Nice posts. I personally find Stirner to be potentially useful for Nationalists, and I suspect that the main reason that he isn't used more is the fact that he elaborated more on what he was against than what he was for. So the impression of Stirner is that he was "against Morality, against the Family, against Humanity, against Nationalism, and basically against all decent things that I hold dear".

But then one misses the implicit core of Stirner. It is up to the individual, "the Unique", to find the values and goals that he/she wish to fight for. As long as those goals are "my own", and not imposed by society/indoctrination. And my personal equation is that ethnonationalism is a quite natural goal, as are a code of honour, spirituality, love for nature, et al, once all brainwash and indoctrination is washed away (the "spooks" of Liberalism, so to speak).

Ernst Jünger used Stirner as inspiration when creating his concept of the Anarch, as shown in this article:
http://forums.skadi.net/showthread.php?t=21051

More on Stirner is to be found on this page, among other things several online texts:
http://www.nonserviam.com/stirner/