It is still not out of season to write obituaries. Much as we might want to
be rid of Baudrillard, the need to declare the "death of..." still persists
because the simulations of dead powers continue to plague us, even as actual
genocides spread and right-wing hegemony takes over.
We declare and memorialize the deaths of our time so that we can pass beyond
them to enter the scene of the dominant neo-fascist ideology.
- The death of old liberalism. This happened definitively and finally in
1968 with the defeat of Hubert Horatio Humphrey. You can't call Nixon, Ford,
Carter, Reagan, Bush, or Clinton welfare liberals. LBJ with his "guns 'n'
butter" policy was the last old liberal. Since then liberal corporatism, which
weights popular interests mediated through mass organizations, most notably
labor unions, more favorably than plutocratic interests, has been a dead
letter. Its "legislative achievements" continued to operate with continually
less vigor until now, with the victory of technotopian conservative
corporatism (Gingrichism), they are revealed to be time-bound measures rather
than the eternal safety net that everyone was sure they were. The welfare
state, sold as a practical tool, is today revealed to be a utopia rather than
the end of history. Its political impulse expired 25 years ago, but its
after-image has only now burned out.
- The death of the old left. This happened in 1989 with the fall of
Communist power in Europe. Marxism was so discredited by the abject political
failure of Communism, which cleared the way for pan-capitalism, that it has
become a politically neutered philosophical sociology to be plundered for
understanding how capitalism works: as long as capitalism is around there will
be a place for a Marxian analysis purged of the state socialist utopia
(another supposedly practical measure), the left corporatism that suppresses
capitalist interests rather than containing them. Pause. The definitive deaths
of old liberalism and the old left are not recent. The above items simply
re-mark (on) them. They are familiar. Two more recent deaths, related to the
earlier ones, open the path of technotopian conservative corporatism.
- The death of neo-liberalism. Neo-liberalism, the successor of welfare
liberalism was a moderate corporatism (all purportedly law-abiding organized
interest groups are welcome), a compromise formation, a sham national-unity
coalition: a liberalism in captivity to corporate capital, that is, a
simulacrum of liberalism combined with a Jacobin communitarian
national-service, industrial-policy element; a liberal fascism that sometimes
promises something to the subaltern groups but never delivers. The best game
in town for the subalterns! That is the reason for the low turnout for the
Democrats in 1994; the subalterns didn't want to play.
Who needs neo-liberals? The answer turns out to be only those sectors of
corporate capital that are opposed to right-wing takeovers and are happy to
have a weakened President in their pocket to take out and wind up when they
want things like a Mexican peso bailout.
Neo-liberalism is dead, which means at long last that liberalism is dead.
Neo-liberalism already was not liberal - it was communitarianism in
camouflage, a moderate nationalism embarrassed to proclaim its patriotism, and
thus taking refuge in abstract signifiers of republican virtue and
citizenship. But that was not all. Neo-liberalism was also the technotopia of
the "information highway" hype, trade war with China over CDs; New Age
revivalism, prayer meetings of the New Class (Dead Power Elite), Renaissance
Weekends. It slowly morphed itself into the double of its competitor:
technotopian conservative corporatism. It represented the virtual class, but
so does its now victorious opposition. It represented arts administrators,
public corporations, "non-profits." The opposition does not. Big deal.
Neo-liberalism is a stinking corpse. Its defenders (eg., the New Republic
crowd) are still around on the opinion pages in search of some constituency,
making faintly more "liberal" noises than they used to.
- The death of the new-left backlash. The new left died as decisively as the
old liberalism, which it helped kill, in 1968. Prague, Mexico City, Paris,
Chicago were the sites of state repression of the radical-democratic movements
with their confident humanism and their slogans of "power to the people" and
"local control to the local community." Radical democracy, the glue that held
together the various "liberation" movements, dissolved, fragmenting those
movements from within and separating them from each other. After 1968 Marxism
failed to become a replacement for radical democracy as a binding agent. The
later development of a compromise vocabulary, called "PC" by its detractors
and left nameless by those who enunciated it, also failed to unify.
With the dissolve of radical democracy the inheritors of the liberation
movements adopted a stance of defensive particularism toward the world and
suffered continual fragmentation from within, generating a ceaseless
production of micro-ideologies. They hid out and tried to establish bases and
safe havens in the old-liberal bureaucracies. They were the new left's
detritus in a mode of backlash.
With the fall of neo-liberalism the last protective shield for the new-left
backlash was removed and the inheritors of liberation were transformed into
the victim groups of the right wing, left only with abuse value for their
tormentors. Liberation was dead-on-arrival in 1968. Its backlash, Difference,
died in 1994.
The "new left" survives today in academic post Marxism. Ernesto Laclau, a
self-proclaimed partisan of the "new left" and of "radical democracy,"
admitted that the right rather than radical democracy might be the mobilizer
of a dislocated "advanced" capitalist society that produces fragmented
identities as its most conspicuous product. On the other side of
anti-humanism, Laclau proposes a movement for bringing humanity into being for
the first time! The Port Huronists had the confidence that they represented
humanity's deepest yearnings. Laclau has a yearning for humanity.
Dominant Ideology: Gingrichism
Postmodernism was a quarter century of mourning for the death of the (new)
left. As the grieving process went on under the camouflage of "play" and
~jouissance,~ ideological space was colonized by the right wing. Never coherent,
the right found a political formula that contained contradictions, but limited
them sufficiently to mobilize electorates: technotopian conservative
The first appearance of technotopian conservative corporatism was the Reagan
administration with its "Star Wars" myth and its crackdown on subaltern groups.
Conservative corporatism means favoring the complex organizations of corporate
capital and their allies at the expense of vast regions of the state apparatus
and the non-capitalist organized interests to which that apparatus caters. It
becomes technotopian when the operations of corporate power are both masked and
appropriated by a technotopian vision.
Take away government and deliver the population to the mercies of corporate
capital in the name of a decentralized opportunity society brought into being by
the "information revolution" (the Internet) (Tofflerian third-waveism): that is
Gingrichism, the second and over-ideologized version of technotopian
conservative corporatism. Gingrichism is the latest phase of the virtualization
process: it is the pan-capitalist road to virtualization, the way in which
virtualization is appropriated by capitalism rather than shared with the entire
state apparatus and dependent organizations as was the formula of the
neo-liberal technotopia (Goreism) of the "information superhighway."
In pure Tofflerism all second-wave bureaucracies will wither away as the
techniques of the information revolution render them obsolete, and flexible and
decentralized networks take their place, miming the rhizomatic technostructure.
In Gingrichism decentering is left to happen by itself for capitalist
bureaucracies, whereas dislocation (Laclau) is forced to happen for
non-capitalist interests by destroying the regions of the state apparatus that
serve them. Gingrichism is the viciously naive cynical ploy of the hybrid
monster, Newt Gingrich, who combines third-wave populist boosterism with service
to corporate capitalism. He is the great mediating signifier of the two
components of the virtual class: the technotopians and the information industry.
Right-wing hegemony guarantees that pan-capitalism is the beneficiary and agent
of virtualization, the production of cyber-space.
The Triumph of Abuse Value
The pan-capitalist takeover of the virtualization process is sold to
electorates through the politics of greed, resentment, and hatred. There will be
sacrificial victims of the "middle-class tax cuts" that buy off opposition to
the pan-capitalist power grab. First of all, the greatest threats of all are
targeted: unmarried teen-age mothers. They are the ones who produce the gang
members who deal the drugs that pollute the social body. No safety net for them.
And for their children, orphanages that will never be, because they will be too
expensive to build. No safety net; "tough love" instead. It is a favor to the
person deprived of "welfare" to remove them from dependency. As Rep. Clay Shaw
of Florida says, Republican welfare reform "sends a powerful signal that the
government cannot and will not solve everyone's problems."
Under these smarmy rationalizations is sadistic glee in trampling the weak.
The unmarried teen-age mother of the black underclass has enormous abuse value.
All of the male and Christian-right backlash against the new-left backlash can
now be exploited to satisfy the will to punish. Robert Greenstein, a policy
analyst, noted that the Republican welfare-reform bill would cut off funds for
low-income families with children who have cerebral palsy: "I wonder why they're
doing something like that. Are they cutting to help finance cuts in the capital
gains tax?" [Carol Jouzaitas, "House GOP seeks major welfare cuts,"
Chicago Tribune, 2/10/95, Sec. 1, p. 14.] That's the way
technotopian conservative corporatism works. And don't forget the abuse value.
Michael A. Weinstein is Professor of Political Science at Purdue University.
He has published nineteen books, ranging from cultural theory to metaphysics.
With Arthur Kroker he co-authored Data Trash: The Theory of the Virtual
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