The Impotent Liberal II: Knowing Our Enemy, Research Time, 20/12/2016

Continued from last post . . . And I literally mean life and death. As in – people who want to kill you.

How to deal with people who want to kill you was typically a common feature in political philosophy. It’s there in the discipline’s most canonical text – Plato’s Republic considers a basic building block of society the class of warriors.

Liberalism embodies a beautiful idea, given the violent world where we live. Of course, I’m not speaking comprehensively about liberalism – a massive and complicated tradition of political thinking and institution-building.

But that beautiful idea – the most beautiful in the liberal tradition – is that notion of equal rights for all. The principle that everyone should be free to think, believe, live, and do as they please. The only limitation is that no one should harm each other.

Yes, this is most definitely what you call real antagonism.
When Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe talk about enemies, it sounds jarring to someone raised in a liberal society. They talk about antagonism – the social forces and tensions that make enemies of people – as a fundamental element of society.

What is an enemy? The definition is unforgiving. It goes beyond the racism of disgust, by a long way. My enemy is those people whose presence in my society prevent me from being true to myself. You feel kept from your true potential simply because these other people are around in your society, your country.

Are you having trouble picturing that? It’s the kind of feeling that motivates Matthew Heimbach to envision a nation-state where only white Christians would even be allowed to live. Which he’s done on a small scale with his organization’s hamlet in Paoli, Indiana.

Racializing nationalism is the ideology of a drive to exile or eradicate an entire other category of people from your life. It’s bad enough when one group of people feel this about another, and it’s not reciprocated. Imagine the constant terror of both partners wanting to dance this dance.

Two groups of people, a substantial majority of whom hate each other to the point of frothing for genocide. And the rest may not froth, but they’re happy to go along for the ride and would be glad to be rid of the bastards.

Only a few dissenters. Barely a whisper of social conscience. Easy to ignore.

What people do to each other in the name of their ideological utopias
is absolutely horrifying.
That kind of antagonism is – thankfully – rare. For all our sakes, we should prevent this antagonism from developing. Integrate communities with many ethnicities all sharing the same neighbourhood. Cultivate an interest in exploring different cultures – Korean dudes stopping for dinner at the Ethiopian restaurant before the German techno party.

Liberal societies have come up with a lot of excellent ways to create that world where there are no enemies. Definitely, not everyone does them very well. Sometimes, a society or a government’s nationalist leanings outweigh their commitment to openness.

When you start to think, “This is a Christian country,” “a Muslim country,” “a black country,” or “a white country.” And not the only label that matters to a liberal – “This is a free country.”

Everyone can be free. That means no one need be my enemy. Yet here’s an enemy staring me down and calling for my death. And I didn’t do anything to provoke it.*

* Or did I? And if it was my government and I had no genuine idea what the hell’s been going on around the world for the last 70 years? Do you think the average person ever consents to any of the horrible shit different governments do to people around the world? No one runs this stuff by us in a referendum. It’s sold to us. Realpolitik is horrifying no matter who does it. What matters is striking back at the ones who actually harmed you. Not some repairman in Topeka or Mosul who barely cares about politics. The ones who give the orders. A bit of a rant there.

The knowledge that freedom really is universal gives the liberal hope. Hope that no one need be anyone’s enemy. That hope can blind a society to genuine hatred. . . . To be continued

No comments:

Post a Comment