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The angry politics of corporate nationalism

Confronted by angry politicians whose followers refuse to be rational and who have a total disregard towards empirical facts, we are increasingly becoming afflicted by a sense that we have lost the ability to think freely and intelligently. This leaves us in mourning, and as our mourning grows we begin to harbour a degree of political anger, mostly towards the hegemony of angry politics.

It quickly becomes evident that to speak of “post-truth” is utter nonsense. As we are confronted by a re-enactment of an angry politics based on misinformation, we must recall how the Nazis built their way to Kristallnacht on a narrative that blamed “the Jew” for all the economic and political maladies of the day.

Note how the Nazi appellation of “the Jew” is no different from the current use of “the Muslim”, “the Blacks”, “the homosexual”, and “the illegal immigrant” by nationalist politicians. The use of “the” is not accidental. It reduces human beings into an inhuman category which would then be easily targeted.

In its nationalist and corporatist objectives, angry politics has nothing to offer except oppression as a sense of order that systematically disregards truth. This “order” is presented as an antidote to what is regarded as a crisis caused by a lack of homogeneity. Homogeneity is a political fallacy. It adopts a populist method as it seeks to neutralize difference and destroy the agonistic value of democracy.

Those who say that populism in itself is good or evil are missing the point. Populism is a political method—indeed a logic—not an ideology. Yes, there is a logic to populism and it is very clearly planned and set out. Some populists may act like clowns, but they do so rationally and with intent.

In one of the most authoritative books on the subject, On Populist Reason (2007) Ernesto Laclau explains how this logic brings together a chain of disparate demands. Laclau gives two examples of populism: Peron and Berlusconi, who both managed to build an alliance of diverse interests which were deemed impossible to align, but which were accommodated by the notion of a Corporatist arrangement secured on the basis of a social polity that chimes well with a working-class base. Sustaining this economy are the same Corporations that are willing to buy the people’s consensus.

On CNN and other news stations one could already hear supporters of the President-elect denouncing anyone speaking of difference. These commentators argue that there are no black or white, straight or gay individuals, but American individuals. This sounds benign, almost reminiscent of Barack Obama; but only until one starts to peel away the layers which hide the real significance of what this kind of politics implies.

This kind of politics implies a “normalization” of political homogeneity. Beyond its apparent normality, this ideology impairs democracy as it assumes that democracy cannot operate on difference, but on uniformity. Just watch the media — even the liberal media — and listen closely to what is being said.

“Normalization” and “homogeneity” are no different from an implied form of assimilation. Corporatist technocrats call it “equivalence” and willfully confuse it with “equality”. They use benign terms to give the impression that assimilation has to do with equal rights.

Likewise, in Putin’s Russia we have seen the emergence of a nationalist form of corporatism that seeks to iron out any assumption of difference. The systematic assault on LGBT rights is very clearly aligned with a revival of Orthodox Christianity which the Russian nationalists regard as an expression of the Motherland.

Again, this is based on a social system which found the old Soviet social structure very useful in keeping the populist demands linked to each other and thereby satisfied. Putin remains popular with a majority of Russians as he embodies this notion of homogeneity.

Many nationalists these days speak openly against multiculturalism in the name of an assimilation of lifestyles, habits, interests and faiths.

Many nationalists these days speak openly against multiculturalism in the name of an assimilation of lifestyles, habits, interests and faiths. What they see as an ordered society, is a homogeneous society. Ironically this is no different from those theocracies in Iran or Saudi Arabia which are often quoted by white nationalists as the enemy of Western civilization. 

Nationalist corporatism and religious theocracies are no different from each other: they represent a systematic rejection of diversity in matters of dress code, forms of worship, language, and even food. Ultimately they impose laws of assimilation on faith, ideology, and culture. 

Beyond the post-truth nonsense, we need to see things from a perspective of liberty, social justice and human decency. We also need to mark out clear political territories to be identified and to be fought for — such as a democracy sustained on diversity. 

Shocked by the recent ascendancy of corporatist nationalism, a colleague recently told me: “I have just been telling my students that now that the ambiguities of postmodernism are gone, we need to start talking basic stuff like liberty and democracy.” 

This immediately reminds me of the late Gillian Rose, the British philosopher who wrote beautiful books like The Broken Middle, Judaism and Modernity and Melancholy Science. Rose once argued that once the gray on gray of postmodernity is gone, we need to start re-visiting the links that lead from liberalism to fascism.

Gillian Rose’s was not a denunciation of liberalism, but a critique of how liberalism was neutered by neoliberalism, and how angry politics continues to fool many into thinking that somehow there will be a return of a “glorious past” that never existed. Whether this fallacy is gripping Great Britain, the USA, China or Russia, it makes no difference.

The corporate nationalist narrative amounts to the same, a Nationalist International that imposes a politics of sameness which we need to resist and fight against.

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