Friday, August 28, 2015

Trump is the neo-fascist Žižek's been warning us about

ICYMI, Slavoj Žižek has been going on for several years now about an emerging politics embodied in figures like Silvio Berlusconi, Rob Ford - and today, I would argue, presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump. Probably the best way to describe this trend would be to call it neo-fascism - it does not map perfectly onto typical conceptions of twentieth century fascism, but it's animated by a lot of the same sinister dynamics. (The psychology in particular is essentially identical - I'll be writing more about this soon.)

Anyway, Žižek's comments on the topic are scattered all over the place - books, articles, videos, etc. - so I thought it'd be useful to post two of the most compelling excerpts here.

Berlusconi is a significant figure, and Italy an experimental laboratory where our future is being worked out. If our political choice is between permissive-liberal technocratism and fundamentalist populism, Berlusconi’s great achievement has been to reconcile the two, to embody both at the same time. It is arguably this combination which makes him unbeatable, at least in the near future: the remains of the Italian ‘left’ are now resigned to him as their fate. This is perhaps the saddest aspect of his reign: his democracy is a democracy of those who win by default, who rule through cynical demoralisation. 
Berlusconi acts more and more shamelessly: not only ignoring or neutralising legal investigations into his private business interests, but behaving in such a way as to undermine his dignity as head of state. The dignity of classical politics stems from its elevation above the play of particular interests in civil society: politics is ‘alienated’ from civil society, it presents itself as the ideal sphere of the citoyen in contrast to the conflict of selfish interests that characterise the bourgeois. Berlusconi has effectively abolished this alienation: in today’s Italy, state power is directly exerted by the bourgeois, who openly exploits it as a means to protect his own economic interest, and who parades his personal life as if he were taking part in a reality TV show... 
The wager behind Berlusconi’s vulgarities is that the people will identify with him as embodying the mythic image of the average Italian: I am one of you, a little bit corrupt, in trouble with the law, in trouble with my wife because I’m attracted to other women. Even his grandiose enactment of the role of the noble politician, il cavaliere, is more like an operatic poor man’s dream of greatness. Yet we shouldn’t be fooled: behind the clownish mask there is a state power that functions with ruthless efficiency. Perhaps by laughing at Berlusconi we are already playing his game. A technocratic economic administration combined with a clownish façade does not suffice, however: something more is needed. That something is fear, and here Berlusconi’s two-headed dragon enters: immigrants and ‘communists’ (Berlusconi’s generic name for anyone who attacks him, including the Economist).

And a compilation of excerpts from "Living in the End Times" and "Things cannot go on the way they are":