nettime's_slovene_detranslator on Thu, 10 Feb 2000 20:08:07 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Zizek on Haider [in english]

     [from lbo-talk, from doug henwood, from mr. zizek--tb]


Slavoj Zizek

The prospect of Joerg Haider's Freidemokraten participation in the
Austrian government aroused horror in the entire spectrum of the
"legitimate democratic" political block in the Western world: from the
Social Democratic Left to the Christian conservatives, from Chirac to
Clinton - not to mention, of course, Israel -, they all expressed
"worries" and announced at least symbolic measures of Austria's diplomatic
quarantine, untill this disease disappears or is proven not really

Some commentators perceive this horror as the proof of how the basic
post-World-War-II anti-Fascist democratic consensus in Europe still holds
- are, however, things really so unequivocal? The first thing to do here
is to recall the well-concealed, but nonetheless unmistakable, sigh of
relief in the predominant democratic political field, when, a decade ago,
the Rightist populist parties became a serious presence in Europe. The
message of this relief was: finally the enemy whom we can all together
properly hate, whom we can sacrifice - excommunicate - in order to
demonstrate our democratic consensus! This relief is to be read against
the background of what is usually referred to as the emerging
"post-political consensus." 

The two-party system, the predominant form of politics in our
post-political era, is the appearance of a choice where there is basically
none. Both poles converge on their economic policy - recall recent
elevations, by Clinton and Blair, of the "tight fiscal policy" as the key
tenet of the modern Left: the tight fiscal policy sustains economic
growth, and growth allows us to play a more active social policy in our
fight for better social security, education and health... The difference
of the two parties is thus ultimately reduced to the opposed cultural
attitudes: multiculturalist, sexual etc. "openness" versus traditional
"family values." And, significantly, it is the Rightist option that
addresses and attempts to mobilize whatever remains of the mainstream
working class in our Western societies, while the multiculturalist
tolerance is becoming the motto of new privileged "symbolic classes"
(journalists, academics, managers...). This political choice - Social
Democrat or Christian Democrat in Germany, Democrat or Republican... -
cannot but remind us of our predicament when we want artificial sweetener
in an American cafeteria: the all-present alternative of Nutra-Sweet Equal
and High&Low, of blue and red small bags, where almost each person has
his/her preferences (avoid the red ones, they contain cancerous
substances, or vice-versa), where this ridiculous sticking to one's choice
merely accentuates the utter meaninglessness of the alternative. 

And does the same not go for late TV talk shows, where the "freedom to
choose" is the choice between Jay Leno and David Letterman? Or for the
soda drinks: Coke or Pepsi? It is a well-known fact that the "Close the
door" button in most elevators is a totally disfunctional placebo, placed
there just to give the individuals the impression that they are somehow
participating, contributing to the speed of the elevator journey - when we
push this button, the door closes in exactly the same time as when we just
pressed the floor button without "speeding up" the process by pressing
also the "Close the door" button. This extreme case of fake participation
is an appropriate metaphor of the participation of individuals in our
"postmodern" political process. 

And this brings us back to Haider: significantly, the only political force
with the serious weight which DOES still evoke an antagonistic response of
Us against Them is the new populist Right - Haider in Austria, le Pen in
France, Republicans in Germany, Buchanan in the US. However, it is
precisely for this reason that it plays a key structural role in the
legitimacy of the new liberal-democratic hegemony. They are the negative
common denominator of the entire center-left liberal spectrum: they are
the excluded ones who, through this very exclusion (their inacceptability
as the party of the government) provide the negative legitimacy of the
liberal hegemony, the proof of their "democratic" attitude. In this way,
their existence displaces the TRUE focus of the political struggle (which
is, of course, the stifling of any Leftist radical alternative) to the
"solidarity" of the entire "democratic" bloc against the racist neo-Nazi
etc. danger. 

Therein resides the ultimate proof of the liberal-democratic hegemony of
today's ideologico-political scene, the hegemony which was accomplished
with the emergence of the "Third Way" social democracy. The "Third Way" is
precisely social democracy under the hegemony of liberal-democratic
capitalism. i.e. deprived of its minimal subversive sting, excluding the
last reference to anti-capitalism and class struggle. 

It is absolutely crucial that the new Rightist populists are the only
"serious" political force today which addresses the people with the
anti-capitalist rhetorics, although coated in nationalist/racist/religious
clothing (multinational corporations who "betray" the common decent
working people of our nation). At the congress of the Front National a
couple of years ago, le Pen brought to stage an Algerian, an African and a
Jew, embraced them all and told the gathered public: "They are no less
French than I am - it is the representatives of the big multinational
capital, ignoring their duty to France, who are the true danger to our
identity!" Hypocritical as such statements are, they nonetheless signal
how the populist Right is moving to occupy the terrain left vacant by the

Here, the liberal-democratic Neue Mitte plays a double game: it puts
forward Righist populists as our common true enemy, while it effectively
manipulates this Rightist scare in order to hegemonize the "democratic"
field, i.e. to define the terrain and win over, discipline, its true
adversary, the radical Left. And in the events like Haider's party's
participation in the government (which, let us not forget, has a precedent
in the Fini's neo-Fascist Alleanza Nazionale's participation in the
Berlusconi government a couple of years ago in Italy!), die neue Mitte
gets its own message back in its inverted - true - form. The participation
in the government of the far Right is the price the Left is paying for its
renunciation of any radical political project, for accepting market
capitalism as "the only game in town". 

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