The ordinary state of emergency
With the extension of emergency rule in Turkey to a second three-month term, the Turkish government’s crackdown on bureaucrats and soldiers accused of links to Fethullah Gülen has widened to take in leftists, Kurdish activists and other opponents of the government in the media. Television and radio stations, newspapers and news agencies have been closed; journalists and writers have been jailed on terrorism charges; scores of academics have been fired or imprisoned, hundreds of civil society groups have been banned, and widespread internet shutdowns have been imposed.
The November issue of Varlik (Turkey) examines this ‘extraordinary’ state and the impact it has on writing. Süreyyya Evren struggles to trace a path through a new order that is ‘insidious’ in its refusal to state what actions or thoughts are illegal. ‘The irrationality of the crackdown drags self-censorship into the fog,’ Evren writes. ‘There is zero visibility; it is not apparent which thought needs to be subjected to self-censorship or why. There are some topics that are completely clear, but later, the sheer number of illogical punishments indicates that these provide no guide to the way ahead.’
The ordinary state of emergency: Rober Koptas also looks to the past for lessons on survival. The determination of Armenian novelist and journalist Zaven Biberyan – who was forced to sell underwear in an Istanbul market in the 1950s after political pressure rendered him unemployable – provides ‘an example of what we can and must do in hard times’. The fact is that ‘our homeland has never once experienced a state that was not an emergency’, Koptas writes. ‘Whether a little or a lot, the room for words has always been narrow. The dominance of Turkish as a language, Sunni Islam as a religion, Turkishness as an ethnicity and nationalism, the right and liberalism as politics, has narrowed not just the words but also the lives of those who differed in terms of language, religion, ethnicity or opinion. The extraordinary state of today has always been the case for contrarian or unusual voices. Ask the Kurds, ask the Armenians, ask the communists…’
Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik 11/2016
Accommodate or confront? Either reaction to rightwing populism allows it to set the political agenda, argues Jürgen Habermas in interview with Blätter (Germany). The mistake of the established parties, Habermas argues, ‘lies in acknowledging the battlefront that rightwing populism is defining: “Us” against the system. … Only by ignoring their interventions can one can pull the ground from under the feet of the rightwing populists.’
So what should a leftwing response to reactionary rightwing populism look like? According to Habermas, ‘the only sensible alternative – both to the status quo of feral financial capitalism and to a völkisch or left-nationalist retreat into the supposed sovereignty of long-since hollowed-out nation states – is, I suggest, a supranational form of co-operation that aims to shape a socially acceptable, political reconfiguration of economic globalisation.’
No, we couldn’t: Barack Obama’s victory eight years ago came with huge hopes which in the end he failed to fulfil. As the election campaign revealed, the US is more divided than ever, writes Claus Leggewie. ‘All too often, the president’s speeches served merely as reproach. He knew all too well that he was up against highly-organized lobby groups that held firm to social-economic inequality. Since 2010, many of his initiatives aimed at strengthening a middle and lower class hit by a long-term decline in real wages were thwarted by hostile public opinion or watered down by an antagonistic congressional majority.’
Ukraine conflict: The new Cold War cannot resolve current contradictions in Russia, Ukraine or elsewhere, writes Achim Engelberg. ‘During the Cold War, democratic movements proceeded in the name of freedom, against a culture of oppression, despite the existence of social security. … However, in spite of far stronger economic foundations, this dignity is threatened today in western Europe itself. New awakenings must therefore ensue, and always in the name of social equality or justice.’
Donald Trump’s synthesis of populist isolationism and nationalist triumphalism produces an erratic and unpredictable stance on America’s international role. In the November issue of Vikerkaar (Estonia), published just before the US elections, Christopher Schaefer compares Donald Trump’s foreign policy positions with those of two populist forerunners, the anti-civil rights dixiecrat George Wallace, and the anti-imperialist populist William Jennings Bryan. For these politicians, foreign policy was little more than an extension of domestic anti-elitism; they adopted positions that antagonized the establishment, leading to contradictions such as Trump’s claim to be both isolationist, and extra-tough on ISIS.
The neo-reactionary international: Marek Tamm and Aro Velmet chart intellectual links between Estonian neo-reactionaries and their international brethren. Tamm argues that the new Estonian right is revolutionary, rather than conservative, and seeks to return to an (imagined) Christian, hierarchical, nationalist, and anti-democratic past. Velmet zooms in on the opposition of this new right to ‘gender ideology’ and explains why this rhetoric, which internationally is driven by a conservative-Catholic resurgence, has gained ground in predominantly secular Estonia. It is language contrasting ‘totalitarian’ elite reforms with the ‘natural’ instincts of the people that has made anti-gender activism popular among Estonian nationalists and anti-communists.
Thinking about populism: Ulrike Guérot argues that European populism is flourishing in the no-man’s-land between European post-democracy and national democracy that largely consists of grand coalitions of the political centre. Jan-Werner Müller offers a new definition of populism based on a rejection of a pluralist society. True populists, Müller argues, invoke a unified, ‘true’ people in whose name they speak, casting the opposition as illegitimate and unpatriotic. Cas Mudde provides a taxonomy of right-populism in Europe, highlighting how parties such as the French Front National have recast themselves as democratic bulwarks against a global Islamic threat, whilst rejecting other components of liberalism, such a minority rights.
Also: Classic texts by historical reactionaries Joseph de Maistre and Julius Evola are combined with biographical interviews of Estonian far-right activists, revealing a more complex and self-aware picture of the populist Right than headlines normally allow for.
As economic, informational and migratory flows undermine static models of local populations and nationally delimited cultures, so the concept of the hermetic state seems increasingly out-dated, writes historian Dieter Gosewinkel in Merkur (Germany). In Europe, this tendency is supported by political practice: freedom of movement ‘marks the being of the continent so indelibly that it also determines the moral sense of the leading European politicians … Practice creates and is confirmed by a theory.’
A less obvious shift is also taking place in concepts of citizenship. Social inequality between states makes tying individual rights to national affiliation seem a violation of the universalist ethos of equality. And yet, the protection and freedom of the individual are still best protected through national citizenship, according to Gosewinkel. He shows how an ethnic and discriminatory concept of citizenship gave way, in the course of two world wars and decolonization, to an inclusive concept that, he argues, is worth preserving today.
1989 marked the highpoint of faith in citizenship, argues Gosewinkel: ‘Never before in the legal history of Europe had the liberal idea of an autonomous bourgeois subject and bearer of individual rights dominated to such an extent. … A supra-national legal institution of political affiliation emerged from the will of the EU member states to provide Union citizens with as much freedom as possible, and to entrust the protection of this freedom with European institutions.’
Nevertheless, European citizenship is still premised on citizenship of a member state, which is in turn subordinate to national sovereignty. Even if Europe were to decide to become a ius publicum europaeum, writes Gosewinkel, ‘this political entity would have clearly defined borders. … The ability to define inclusion and exclusion remains an existential condition of every political unit. This also goes for the European Union, if it is to remain able to guarantee its citizens protection and freedom.’
Transit 49 (2016)
Transit (Austria) compiles tributes to Charles Taylor to mark the Canadian philosopher’s eighty-fifth birthday. The contributions – from many prominent academics, including Nancy Fraser, Craig Calhoun, Alasdair MacIntyre, Richard Bernstein, Axel Honneth and Jürgen Habermas – testify to Taylor’s influence on contemporary political and ethical philosophy. Issue editors Ulf Bohmann, Gesche Keding and Hartmut Rosa introduce and comment on Taylor’s key concepts, including that of ‘strong evaluations’. These, they write, ‘define and constitute what we, in a reflexive sense, consider worth striving for and try to realize. The central question they answer is: what kind of person do I want to be? The tributes collected here show what kind of person Charles Taylor wants to be, and what he has become for others.’
For Taylor, the self is essentially a political self; strong evaluations are the precondition of the democratic process: ‘Only through the insistent articulation and deliberation of strong evaluations … can modern society reach decisions that found sustainable political institutions.’ Dialogue, another of Taylor’s key concepts, is the means through which strong evaluations enter the democratic process. The dialogic principle repels the threats often seen to emanate from the political system: atomism, inexorability of the status quo, alienation and absence of genuine popular sovereignty. ‘Only with the articulation and deliberation of strong political evaluations is a vibrant public sphere created; only then is a dynamic political debate possible’.
Parallels with Habermas are justified. And yet, as Habermas himself writes, the two philosophers approach the topic of the ‘politics of recognition’ from ‘different shores’. ‘In my view, the secular perspective is distinguished from the religious self-conception through the willingness and ability to unconditionally accept discursive rationality, which beyond all contexts connects us in a regulative sense. In your view, this secular self-conception is just one among many context-bound and perpetually competing worldviews.’ Taylor’s belief in an ‘irreducible pluralism of world views’ will nevertheless, writes Habermas, enable him ‘to live with our amicably tolerated dissent’.
The politics of visibility: The Muslim presence in European cities is concealed through restrictions on mosques; at the same time, Muslims are exposed as threats to the public order. Referring to Hannah Arendt‘s writing on the entitlement of the refugee both to a public and a private life, Luiza Bialasiewicz argues that ‘the negotiation of the boundaries of tolerance in Europe is tied to the ways in which rights to visibility and invisibility in our cities’ public spaces are negotiated’.
Multitudes 64 (2016)
In Multitudes (France), Michel Agier looks at the quasi-cities formed by migrants. While there is plainly ‘a whole world in these spaces set apart from nation states’, he writes, the perception of their inhabitants as ‘other’ speaks of an ‘exoticism of misfortune and disaster’. And yet, despite the misery, the camps do provide a sense of home: the recently evacuated ‘jungle’ camp in Calais, writes Agier, was seen by the migrants as ‘their own hospitable town in France that the government had denied them.’ At times, residents would ‘forget’ to smuggle themselves onto lorries bound for the UK, because they saw life in their proto-city as preferable.
Hannah Arendt imagined refugees camps as a ‘shared world’ and the only option for the stateless – the result of increasing numbers of migrant populations and the obligation of the most unfortunate to abandon their nation states. Agier indeed notes a striking contrast between the community feel of Calais, with its migrants from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Eritrea and Sudan, and the brutality of the camp’s destruction, and poignantly sympathizes with these new global citizens.
Brexit: The British Eurosceptic policy of diluting the EU in a vast Atlanticist market ultimately could not outflank a reunified Germany, writes Yann Moulier Boutang. The UK’s potentially advantageous position outside the currency union, ensuring the City’s financial supremacy, proved unable to stop the integrationist momentum. ‘Ever closer union’ continued elsewhere, and eventually ‘the neoliberal, English moment in Europe had passed’. A Norway-style solution or bespoke deal is a pipedream; a punitive divorce seems inevitable. ‘Margaret Thatcher’s ‘I want my money back’ has rebounded on Britain.’ The years of uncertainty that will follow the triggering of Article 50 and the UK’s shaky bargaining position threaten far-reaching economic consequences for the island: ‘If the City loses its access to the single market, an economic Waterloo in reverse is nigh’.
In springerin (Austria) – issue title: ‘Europe’s Other’ – Suzana Milevska looks askance at the slogan ‘We Refugees’, borrowed from Hannah Arendt’s eponymous 1947 essay and nowadays often used as expression of solidarity by people not refugees themselves. The first person plural can, argues Milevska, emphasize the repressed fear of the ‘Other’ and the western notion of a gulf between ‘Us’ and ‘Them’. It can also conceal exclusivity, essentialism and condescension, ’caused by the privilege that arises from residence status, class and religion’. The necessity of a ‘counter-narrative that what is needed here is solidarity against those who create the conditions in which fear and anxiety about the “Other” take root (as Phillip Cole has argued in Soundings / Eurozine) goes hand in hand with a responsibility that is connected to every use of the word “We”.’
‘The problem of the “We” consists in the fact that ultimately one can only lose,’ writes Milevska. ‘Whether or not one denies those who are not members of such communities the right to speak of “We”, the risk of essentialization is unavoidable, since the right to use “We” can be derived neither genetically nor ethnically – nor by the fact that one makes the grammatical use of the first person plural. On the contrary, the trust of the others needs to be won in order to secure the preconditions and illocutionary power through which this speech act can count as having been successful vis-à-vis invisibly inherent hierarchies and privileges.’
Willkommenskultur: In conversation with Pascal Jurt, Fatima El-Tayeb comments on the aporias of Germany’s ‘culture of welcome’: ‘The problem … is ‘not that people become engaged, but that this engagement has no influence on the structural racism that dominates the country (and the continent). This expresses itself, just like in the 1990s, in stricter asylum laws, the normalization of far-right violence, and a discourse of the so-called “concerned citizen”, who is automatically assumed to be white and Christian or socialized as Christian.’
In September, an inmate of one of France’s new special prison wings for ‘radicalized’ detainees violently assaulted a guard. It ignited a national debate about incarceration and France’s political response to terrorism: Are prisons contributing to making terrorists? Should Islamists be separated from the general prison population? What should be done about individuals who are clearly dangerous but haven’t yet committed a crime?
Instead of reducing public policy to protection against the ‘threat’ of a few inmates, Jean-Marie Delarue argues in Esprit (France) that today the re-socialization of detainees needs to be promoted. This involves increasing social ties between inside and out, building smaller in-town prisons, and offering real training and work opportunities. Our prisons are those we are responsible for, Delarue argues.
De-radicalization: A conversation with experts on radical Islamist detainees examines the way French prisons react to global terrorism. Participants examine radical individuals’ various motives, from self-assertion to a will to die, from humanitarianism to political commitment. They argue that a better appreciation of spiritual values in detention could help confront brutal fanaticism.
A new approach to prison: Antoine Garapon interrogates the mission of French prisons, which are ‘full of inmates and yet empty of meaning’. The prevalent conception of prison limits it to its function of containment and security. Instead, argues Garapon, we must develop a new ‘mythology of punishment’ (Paul Ricœur), based on civic constraint and assistance, as a possible response to the need for ‘initiation’ that is expressed in terrorist acts.
Kulturos barai 10/2016
Kulturos barai (Lithuania) talks to Slovenian ethnomusicologist Ana Hofman about neoliberalism and higher education. Hofman explains how cuts in the Slovenian higher education budget from 2013 has caused the commodification of academic knowledge and made university positions, above all those held by young academics, short-term and precarious.
‘Fragmented and externally scheduled research and constant work on short-term projects with few opportunities for deep, long-term study’ has ‘effected a radical reshaping of the academic environment, with increased competition among institutions and departments and diminished cooperation and solidarity’, says Hofman. ‘Applied scholarship is increasingly seen through the lens of employability and decreasingly perceived as being led by ethical principles and social responsibility’, argues Hofman. ‘In the changing global circumstances, we risk completely losing the idea of the humanities as a field of emancipatory knowledge production.’
Revolutions: Polish cultural scientist Andrzej Mencwel rejects the term ‘revolution’ when referring to the internet, on the basis that the concept ‘no longer provides inspiration either to the masses, or to intellectuals as it did a century ago. It no longer contains hopes that were still alive even fifty years ago – during the great era of decolonization, or later during the era of youth revolt. Economic-political revolution that sought to overthrow capitalism and free humanity from the captivity of the market turned out to be a dictatorial illusion. … These days we are hypnotized not by the noisy pathos of revolt, but by long-term and slow creation of a permanent system.’
Wespennest 171 (2016)
Sergei Lebedev’s article in the current issue of Wespennest (Austria) – title: ‘Back to the USSR’ – is notably lacking in nostalgia. Indeed, Lebedev recognizes the totalitarian past all too clearly in the present. Why, he asks, has Russia failed to prosecute those responsible for Soviet crimes? ‘What is lacking’, he writes, ‘is public awareness of the extra-legal, criminal nature of the Soviet regime as such, an awareness that regards as criminal all of the regime’s functions and activities, every aspect of its policy, both domestic and foreign, and, above all, those aspects that made the Soviet justice system so unjust.’
The tendency to disconnect Soviet-era crimes from a ‘violent state machinery’ and to see them instead as ‘having been committed by fate or history’ is tied up with a quasi-religious notion of repentance that emerged during Perestroika. This makes it possible, Lebedev argues, to substitute ‘pseudo-theological moralizing for specific judicial and political practice. Once the personal act of repentance, imbued with a strictly internal, individual meaning, is applied en masse, it turns into a spiritual sham that diverts public debate away from the criminals and their crimes’. This vicious cycle of ‘responsibility without agency’ can only be broken when society accepts its own failure to sufficiently resist totalitarianism.
Neo-Stalinism: Although Stalinism never really went away, it is making a brazen comeback in contemporary Russia, observes Lev Rubinstein. ‘Stalinism today – the Stalinism of a generation that experienced neither the late-Soviet era nor that of real Stalinism – has no connection whatsoever to earlier forms of Stalinism. It is fairly comfortable, glamorous, and in a certain sense also commercially attractive. And that is exactly why it is so popular in certain circles. The ubiquitous Stalinist of today is … a direct product of the freedom of the 1990s, which he so fears and despises.’
Jews in Lithuania: Poet Tomas Venclova returns to an article first published in Samizdat forty years ago, in which he argued that Lithuanians were so anti-Soviet that they refused to confront their own history of anti-Semitism. Today, he writes, Jews and Lithuanians no longer represent different worlds: interest in Jewish life has even become fashionable among the educated. And yet: the old ethnic nationalism that dictates that the Lithuanian can only be a victim or a heroic warrior now scapegoats other minorities. ‘Multiculturalism entered into the academic milieu solely thanks to intellectual and financial help from the West, however has no resonance among the large part of the ruling classes, which merely reflect the mentality of the masses. Globalization is essentially seen as evil, even as a conspiracy against the people. This Lithuanian ideology is basically identical to that of Le Pen in France – with the sole exception that it is supported by almost all influential political forces.’
Writing exclusively in Glänta (Sweden), Zygmunt Bauman proposes labelling the early twenty-first century, ‘The age of nostalgia’. In a world that Bauman calls Retrotopia, the only thing to hope for is the past; nostalgia has replaced progress as the hallmark of modernity. This has far-reaching consequences for the way we perceive and shape society. It is now:
‘up to each human individual to seek and find or construe individual solutions to socially produced problems and apply them – while using one’s own wit and individual skills and resources. The goal is no longer a better society – since making it better has for all practical intents and purposes become hopeless – but improving one’s own position inside what is essentially and definitively incorrigible. Instead of shared rewards for collective efforts at social reform, the individually appropriated spoils of competition.’
The psychopathology of history: Historian Sara Edheim describes the past, or rather our account of it, as something deeply conservative. History ‘seeks to protect the subject from everything that might lead to change and therefore also to the extinction of the subject in the form it perceives itself’. Because the moment we live in ‘right now’ is an ‘acute situation’, writes Edheim, we need to find ‘another way to look at the past and its relation to us and our times’.
Hauntology: Glänta-editor Göran Dahlberg dispatches an intriguing collection of fragments entitled, ‘The end of history syndrome and other ghost stories’. ‘In traditional ghost stories, one of the most common ways to get rid of a ghost is to banish it. But where should it be banished? Back to where it came from? Back where? Is there really a way back?’