The Resistible Rise of Fascists Today
Trump, Erdogan, Zizek, and All of Us?
This won’t be just four years; we are going to re-elect Trump.
Perhaps it’s just a pessimism that has possessed me, but it seems that we — the whole we, the global human race — it seems to me, that we have turned servile. That we have become subservient and substandard enough to intensify our inborn and inbred fascism. And on January 20, 2017, the American people are going to join the far-right Internationale on our Fromm-ean planetary “escape from freedom.”
Political leadership worldwide already stinks of prejudice toward the Other, of anti-democracy and hatred. We have been witnessing a global rise of the extreme-right in the likes of Erdogan and Orban, of Kaczynski and Johnson, of Marine le Pen and racketeers like Brecht’s Arturo Ui. Given all this we might look to the rebellious left for a word of critical hope, to someone like Slavoj Zizek, for example. But in this Zizek — in spite of his brilliance himself a Trump endorser — is no rebel at all.
Instead Zizek has transvaluated the social sciences and the humanities. Having already ridiculed our protests against Austria’s Haider, now the once-famed high priest of once-famed Lacanian psychoanalysis has endorsed Trump. All of a sudden, this formerly-unpredictable theorist has become a majoritarian conservative with no concern for alterities, with little time for women, queers, or — as Adam Kirsch has demonstrated in The New Republic — Jews. There Kirsch wrote that Zizek “is engaged in the rehabilitation of many of the most evil ideas of the last century. He is trying to undo the achievement of all the postwar thinkers who taught us to regard totalitarianism, revolutionary terror, utopian violence, and anti-Semitism as inadmissible in serious political discourse. Is Zizek’s audience too busy laughing at him to hear him?” Yes we are.
Even more, we’ve relished laughing at Zizek and Trump alike! We have found their prejudices amusing and disregarded their fascist tendencies. Their disdain for human rights, their phobias toward the Other, and their fascination with the cult of violence (diagnosed in the writings of Zizek by John Gray) have become jokes to us, comedic routines. And, contra Susan Sontag, this is no “fascinating fascism.”
I’m aware that fascism is an all-too-frequent term of abuse — that as a catcall it can become trite — but (regrettably!) one needs to use it again. Although Zizek predictably disagrees with this descriptor, right here in Public Seminar Matthew Filner has detected fascist traits in Trumpism. And he is not alone in his analysis.
With Poland’s ultranationalist far right in power, social anthropologist Joanna Tokarska-Bakir sees a similar fascist trend in her own country. Despite Zizek’s demurements it is the poet Adam Zagajewski who gave the correct designation to our times when, in Gazeta Wyborcza, he warned us: “Ladies and Gentlemen, Fascism is near.” And now, in the form of a billionaire President-elect who could not scorn otherness more, America too needs to hear such a warning.
The frightening aspect of these warnings is that there’s already precious little cosmopolitan hospitality in our world; jingoist hostilities have a far ampler place. Trumputin and their sidekicks foster hostility toward the Other “with sword and fire.” And they do so by weaving together fascist versions of nationalism, religious fundamentalism, and a reified sexual identity.
They worship the nation, the “dream and reality of the nineteenth century,” as Julia Kristeva put it. We’re all to be sacrificed at the altar of this fiction of nationhood. At stake are Greater Hungary, Sacred Russia, Make America Great Again, Proud Poland. Religion is being manipulated and turned into a handy ideology: After all, fascism constitutes a false religion, or — according to Emilio Gentile — a political religion, where a new model of the human being (one necessarily male) is born.
George L. Mosse has linked this kind of fascism with hyper-masculinization and with an exaggeration of homosocial relations (coupled with the deadly discrimination against homosexuality!). A pack of misogynist gay-haters who eulogize “traditional” sexuality and praise procreation are colonizing the planet. Perhaps that’s why the nativist Polish government is paying for every newborn child while at the same time it is beginning the exhumations of the victims of the 2010 Smolensk air crash. Apparently necrophilia — in contrast to Fromm’s biophilia — is proliferating in Poland just as much as is fascist imagery (something I have discussed with Joe Lockard and Pawel Leszkowicz in Bad Subjects).
Again, with the recent spike in incidents of hate speech after Trump’s election, America is joining this less-than-exclusive club. Certainly in Poland hate crimes are widespread, warns Amnesty International. This report, by Marco Perolini of Amnesty International, depicts the bashing of gay and transgender people, the abuse of the homeless, and the victimizing of activists for Jewish memory. “Unknown elements” have attacked the apartment of Tomasz Pietrasiewicz, who is rebuilding Jewish life in my city of Lublin, while neo-Nazi posters saying “Zionists, run out” and showing the faces of Holocaust scholars, feminists, and countercultural operators (including myself) are being placed around the city to suppress dissent. Is this what America has to look forward to?
If Trump has his way it is hard to say that it will not be, after all he built his candidacy on the promise to expel immigrants and reject “dangerous” refugees. And now Poland is doing the same and rejecting refugees. Apparently Jan T. Gross is correct again: Just as our part of Europe has been hostile to its Jewish people, so is it refusing the entry of asylum-seekers nowadays. In this Gross is a Socrates who stings us out of our complacency. And, again like Socrates, such barbs are not so welcome.
One of the great ironies in the American and Polish similarities is that in both countries the moral majority call themselves Christian. But it seems this is a pseudo-Christianity that wants nothing to do with the invitations to “love thy neighbour” or “turn the other cheek.” My own most beloved verse of the Hebrew Bible — the same one psychoanalyzed by Erich Fromm and Julia Kristeva — is too forgotten: “And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land,” it reads, “you shall not vex him.”
Rather than be forgotten, the biblical injunction to “Love this strange person” should be our motto today. Instead Chechen refugees are being forbidden entry to Poland, they have to camp for weeks in unsanitary conditions at the railroad station of Belarus’ border city of Brest. It is the hospitality is postulated by Homer, the Hebrew Bible, the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, the Koran, and the New Testament that we ought to practice. The same hospitality demanded by Immanuel Kant, Edmond Jabès, Emmanuel Levinas, Jacques Derrida, Hélène Cixous, and Zygmunt Bauman. This is a hospitality that would resist the fascist tendencies proliferating round us — one that can combat fundamentalism in all its forms.
Instead it seems, in Poland at least, that fundamentalism has only come to the fore. What else can we call it when ruling party M.P. Beata Mateusiak-Pielucha recently said that “We should require from atheists, Eastern Orthodox, or Muslims to declare that they know and oblige to respect the Polish Constitution and regard values recognized in Poland as important. Failure to comply to these requirements ought to be an unambiguous reason for deportation.”
Instead, (as I’ve written before in Souciant and Public Seminar) what Hannah Arendt diagnosed as an “expulsion from humanity” is happening to refugees right now — before our very eyes. And we’re not a bit concerned. One is not innocent because the virtue of hospitality is lost — we’ve lost it. In spite of the current religious revival (or should we call it a fundamentalist revival?) the message of hospitality is completely neglected. Instead, it seems that ultraconservatives, specialists in the hostility toward the Other have monopolized today’s leadership of the planet. It seems that the globe turned into an enormous red ocean slowly covering over the blue, democratic islands.
Where is democracy? Where is the pluralism of yesteryear? Far-right militias have been mainstreamed; they rule Eastern Europe and other regions. Migrants, minorities, women, queers, and people with disabilities are othered and abjected. The symbolic violence of the leaders is directed against them, that is, against us. What one smells globally is the not-so discreet odor of fascism. And instead of disgust we are mesmerized by the ugly actions of Trump, Putin, Erdogan, Orban, Kaczynski, and Johnson. And in our hypnosis we speak out too little. And do too little.
It was not Zizek but David Remnick of the New Yorker who called us to account when he wrote the following. “On January 20, 2017, we will bid farewell to the first African-American President — a man of integrity, dignity, and generous spirit — and witness the inauguration of a con who did little to spurn endorsement by forces of xenophobia and white supremacy. It is impossible to react to this moment with anything less than revulsion and profound anxiety.” But it is not only America who has bid farewell to democracy and endorsed xenophobia and white supremacy. It is us. We — the whole we, the global human race — we have all chosen and continue to support the far right.
Certainly Trumputin et. al. have shown themselves to be a SternHELLian “revolutionary right”? But, more worryingly, aren’t we all? Is it “they” who exclude themselves from democracy, or is it we who depart — stupidly — from this as the late French political thinker Claude Lefort has called it, heterogeneous way of life? Because to my mind it is hospitality toward the Other that lies at the heart of democracy. How can it begin to beat again? Is it Zizek that we should look?
It is a great irony that both Slavoj Zizek and Melania Trump are Slovenian. The former ran for President, representing — horror of horrors given his Stalinist/Maoist tastes — the Liberal Democracy party. And Melania, born and bred in concrete apartment blocks is, like me, a rare foreign speaker of English in the America public realm. If only she had used her voice to say “Tear down this wall!” If only Zizek had.
But not only them. Us too. And for our lack of opposition to this global specter of fascism I have only one commendation: an examination of our consciences. Perhaps this will help us see that, against the new fascism, it is altruism, conscientization, and social justice that are called for — in short, “mending the world,” as the late Emil Fackenheim translated the Hebrew tikkun olam.
Because this totalitarian temptation is not only within Poland or the United States. It is within us all. That’s why we badly need re-democratization; why we badly need human rights. It’s why civil disobedience (as Masha Gassen recalls) and rebellion is required. It why we badly need hospitality toward the Other.
For the time being, Trumputinist praxis and Zizek’s stance worship the Same White Male of Wiles instead. Let’s do our best to be sure that it is only for the time being.