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Political nihilism spreads beyond the classroom it

empowers violent conservatives like Trump foresaking
compromise is a dangerous, academic luxury
Claudio 16, (assistant professor of development studies and southeast
Asian studies at the Ateneo de Manila University, Intellectuals have ushered
the world into a dangerous age of political nihilism,
On the surface, it would seem that intellectuals have nothing to do with the
rise of global illiberalism. The movements powering Brexit, Donald Trump and
Third-World strongmen like Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte all gleefully reject
books, history and higher education in favor of railing against common enemies
like outsiders and globalization. And youll find few Trump supporters among
the largely left-wing American professoriate. Yet intellectuals are
accountable for the rise of these movementsalbeit indirectly. Professors have
offered stringent criticisms of neoliberal society. But they have failed to offer the
public viable alternatives. In this way, they have promoted a political nihilism that
has set the stage for new movements that reject liberal democratic principles of
tolerance and institutional reform. Intellectuals have a long history of critiquing liberalism,
which relies on a philosophy of individual rights and (relatively) free markets. Beginning in the 19th
century, according to historian Francois Furet, left-wing thinkers began to arrive at a consensus that
modern liberal democracy was threatening society with dissolution because it atomized individuals, made
them indifferent to public interest, weakened authority, and encouraged class hatred. For most of the
20th century, anti-liberal intellectuals were able to come up with alternatives. Jean-Paul Sartre famously
defended the Soviet Union even when it became clear that Joseph Stalin was a mass murderer. French,
American, Indian, and Filipino university radicals were hopelessly enamored of Mao Zedongs Cultural
Some leftist intellectuals
Revolution in the 1970s. The collapse of Communism changed all this.
began to find hope in small revolutionary guerrillas in the Third World, like Mexicos
Subcomandante Marcos. Others fell back on pure critique. Academics are now
mostly gadflies who rarely offer strategies for political change. Those who do
forward alternatives propose ones so vague or divorced from reality that they
might as well be proposing nothing. (The Duke University professor of romance studies
Michael Hardt, for example, thinks the evils of modern globalization are so pernicious that only worldwide
Such thinking promotes political hopelessness. It rejects
love is the answer.)
gradual change as cosmetic, while patronizing those who think otherwise.
This nihilism easily spreads from the classroom and academic journals to
op-ed pages to Zuccotti Park, and eventually to the public at large. For academic
nihilists, the shorthand for the worlds evils is neoliberalism. The term is used to refer to a free market
ideology that forced globalization on people by reducing the power of governments. The more the term is
used, however, the more it becomes a vague designation for all global drudgery. Democratic politics in the
age of neoliberalism, according to Harvard anthropologists Jean and John Comaroff, is something of a
They argue that our belief that
pyramid scheme: the more it is indulged, the more it is required.
we can use laws and constitutional processes to defend our rights is a form of
fetishism that is ultimately chimerical. For the University of Chicago literary theorist
Lauren Berlant, the democratic pursuit of happiness amid neoliberalism is nothing but cruel
optimism. The materialist things that people desire are actually an obstacle
to your flourishing, she writes. According to this logic, we are trapped by our
own ideologies. It is this logic that allows left-wing thinkers to implicitly side
with British nativists in their condemnation of the EU. The radical website
Counterpunch, for example, describes the EU as a neoliberal prison. It also views
liberals seeking to reform the EU as coopted by the right wing and its goalsfrom
the subversion of progressive economic ideals to neoliberalism, to the enthusiastic embrace of
Trump supporters are singing a similar
neoconservative doctrine. Across the Atlantic,
tune. Speaking to a black, gay, college-educated Trump supporter, Samantha
Bee was told: Weve had these disasters in neoconservatism and neoliberalism
and I think that he [Trump] is an alternative to both those paths. The academic nihilists
and the Trumpists are in agreement about a key issue: The system is
fundamentally broken, and liberals who believe in working patiently toward
change are weak. For the Portuguese sociologist Boaventura de Sousa Santos, indifference is the
the hallmark of political liberalism. Since liberals balance different interests and rights, Santos writes,
they have no permanent friends or foes. He proposes that the world needs to revive the friend/foe
dichotomy. And in a profane way, it has: modern political movements pit Americans against Muslims,
academic anti-
Britain against Europe, a dictatorial government against criminals. Unfortunately,
liberalism is not confined to the West. The Cornell political scientist Benedict Anderson once
described liberal democracy in the Philippines as a Cacique Democracy, dominated by feudal landlords
and capitalist families. In this system, meaningful reform is difficult, since the countrys political system is
Having a nihilist streak
like a well-run casino, where tables are rigged in favor of oligarch bosses.
myself, I once echoed Anderson when I chastised Filipino nationalists for
projecting hope onto spaces within an elite democracy. Like Anderson, I
offered no alternative. The alternative arrived recently in the guise of the Duterte, the
new president of the Philippines. Like Anderson and me, Duterte complained
about the impossibility of real change in a democracy dominated by elites
and oligarchs. But unlike us, he proposed a way out: a strong political leader
who was willing to kill to save the country from criminals and corrupt politicians. The
spread of global illiberalism is unlikely to end soon. As this crisis unfolds, we
will need intellectuals who use their intellects for more than simple negation
professors like the late New York University historian Tony Judt, who argued that European-style social
Failing that, we need academics who
democracy could save global democracy.
acknowledge that liberal democracy, though slow and imperfect, enables a
bare minimum of tolerance in a world beset by xenophobia and hatred . For
although academics have the luxury of imagining a completely
different world, the rest of us have to figure out what to do with the
one we have.
Exclusive focus on past injustice is bad there shouldnt be a forced choice
Bevernage 15 (October 2015, Berber, Assistant Professor of History at the University of Ghent, The
Past is Evil/Evil is Past: On Retrospective Politics, Philosophy of History, and Temporal Manichaeism,
History and Theory Volume 54, Issue 3, pages 333352)
Torpey is certainly not the only intellectual expressing these worries. According to historian Pieter Lagrou , our contemporary
societies, for lack of future projects, shrink into a passeist culture. 12 In European public discourse, he
argues, the focus on crimes of the distant past has become so strong that it tends to marginalize claims of victims of
contemporary crimes and human rights violations. Therefore, Lagrou argues, a commemorative discourse of victimhood is very
much the opposite of a constructive and dynamic engagement with the present, but rather a paralyzing regression of democratic debate.13
Lagrou's argument closely resembles many others that turn against retrospective politics and victim culture such as Ian Buruma's warning
about the peril of minorities defining themselves exclusively as historical victims and engaging in an Olympics of suffering14 and Charles
Maier's claims about a surfeit of memory.15
These warnings about the perils of a retrospective politics outweighing or even banning politics directed at contemporary injustices or
striving for a more just future should be taken seriously. Yet the alternative of an exclusively present- or future-oriented politics
disregarding all historical injustice is not desirable either. Contemporary injustice often manifests itself in the form of structural repetition or
continuity of injustices with a long history. Moreover, totalitarian versions of progressivist politics have frequently abused the idea of a
struggle for a more just future in order to justify past and present suffering. It could even be argued that the rise of dominant restrospective
politics has been initiated partly on the basis of disillusionment with the exculpatory mechanisms of progressivist ideology.16 Some indeed
claim that much of present-day retrospective politics and the setting straight of historical injustices would be unnecessary had totalitarian
progressivist politics focused less exclusively on the bright future and shown more sensitivity to the contemporary suffering of its day. This
claim certainly makes sense if one thinks of extreme examples such as Stalin's five-year plans and Mao's Great Leap Forward. Yet, as
Matthias Frisch rightly argues, the risk of the justification of past and present suffering lurks around the corner wherever progressive logics
of history or promises of bright and just futures are not counterbalanced by reflective forms of remembrance.17
Therefore, we should resist dualist thinking that forces us to choose between restitution for
historical injustices and struggle for justice in the present or the future . Rather, we should look
for types of retrospective politics that do not oppose but complement or reinforce the emancipatory and
utopian elements in present- and future-directed politics and the other way around: present- and
future-oriented politics that do not forget about historical injustices .
In this paper I want to contribute to this goal by focusing on the issue of retrospective politics and by analyzing how one can differentiate
emancipatory or even utopian types of retrospective politics from retrospective politics that I classify here as anti-utopian. I argue that
the currently dominant strands ofretrospective politics indeed do tend to be anti-utopian and have a very limited
emancipatory potential . Moreover, I claim that currently dominant retrospective politics do not radically break
with several of the exculpatory intellectual mechanisms that are typicallyassociated with progressivist politics
but actually modify and sometimes even radicalize them . In that restricted sense, and only in this sense, it can be
argued that currently dominant retrospective politics do not represent a fundamentally new way of dealing
with historical evil and the ethics of responsibility.

Those oppressed by colonialism need policy solutions.

They depend on macropolitical feasibility of the
postcolonial state
Dussel, 11 [2011, Enrique Dussel is the Professor of Philosophy at the
Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, From Critical Theory to the
Philosophy of Liberation: Some Themes for Dialogue, Transmodernity: Journal
of Peripheral Cultural Production,]
We should proceed in politics in the very same manner that Marx proceeded
in economics: working on the level of macro-institutional feasibility. The
dissolution of the state should be defined as a political postulate. To seek to bring this about
empirically leads to the anti-institutional fallacy, and the impossibility of
a critical, transformative politics. To say that we need to transform the world without
exercising power through institutions including the state (which we need to radically transform, but not
The presently given institutions,
eliminate) is the fallacy into which Negri and Holloway fall.
and even the particular state as a political macro-institution, are never
perfect and always require transformation. But there are moments in which institutions
become diachronically repressive in the extreme, in their final entropic moment. Hegemony the
consensus exercised over the obedient la Weber's legitimate domination91 gives rise to domination
in the Gramscian sense. The state machinery, in the service of the economic interests of the
dominant classes in the postcolonial metropolitan nations, become definitively repressive. The
popular masses go on gaining consciousness in proportion to level of their oppression. This accumulation
of power-to (potentia),93 which takes place partially in the exteriority of the structures of the particular
state but within the bosom of the people (which is not without its contradictions), confronts the political
It does so to trans-form them (not necessarily for reforms94,
institutions currently in force.
but only rarely for revolution95), not necessarily to destroy them (though it could if required by
the postulates), but to use them and transform them according to its ends and
according to the degree of correspondence to the permanence and extension of life and symmetrical
The anti-institutionalist believes that the
democratic participation of the oppressed people.
destruction of the state represents an important victory on the path to
revolution. This sort of destruction is irrational . They have confused the
dissolution of the state as a postulate (empirically impossible, but
functioning as a principle for strategic orientation) with its empirical negation.
How are we to understand the postulate of the dissolution of the state ?
Right-wing anarchism like that of Nozick proposes the dissolution of the state or
something close to it under the guise of the minimal state. The unhindered
market produces equilibrium, especially in Hayek's formulation; for this, the minimal
state needs only to destroy the monopolies that impede the free movement
of the market. A union seeking a wage increase is a monopoly, because it places demands on the
market that do not emanate from free competition. The duty of the state is therefore to
dissolve the union. In the service of this total market definition, the process of globalization as
controlled by transnational industrial and financial capital (not with hegemony, because this was lost in the
move to the last-instance use: the violent coercion of military power), equally proposes the dissolution or
The postcolonial state
weakening of the particular states in postcolonial peripheral nations.
however much it may be dominated by the private bureaucracies of the
transnational corporations which impose their own members onto the political bureaucracies of
those states (and we see, for example, a Coca-Cola distributor as president96) still represents

the last possible resistance for oppressed peoples. To dissolve or

substantially weaken their states is to take away their only possible
defense. The second Iraq War represents a war against a particular postcolonial state that, however
corrupt and dictatorial, nevertheless had a certain degree of sovereignty and self-determination which
interposed some resistance to the appropriation of its petroleum by foreign companies. For all of this, it is
tragic that a sector of the left coincides with the North American Empire the home-state97 of the
transnationals and the ultimate example of power based on its economic political-military complex in
dissolving the particular peripheral state. If Europeans alongside Habermas seemed as though they were
dissolving the old particular state, it is for the strategic fortification of a Confederation of States in the
European Union. In Latin America, if it were possible to proceed to organize a Confederation of Latin
American States98 without American or Spanish influence, such a weakening of the particular state would
Any struggle for the real,
be equally useful. But for the moment, this is not the situation.
effective dissolution of a particular postcolonial state is a reactionary project.
It is an entirely different thing to struggle to transform the particular
postcolonial state in view of a political postulate of the dissolution of the
state as such. This would mean that in the creation of any new institution, in
every exercise of institutional power, or in the transformation of all of the
institutions (the transformation of the state), one would have the dissolution
of the state as an orienting principle. However, this cannot take the form of the
objective, empirical negation of these institutions, but rather must take
the form of a responsible, democratic, popular, social, and
participatory subjectivization of institutional functions, in which
representation proceeds by approaching (to use a Kantian word) the
represented. In this situation, the symmetrical participation of all those affected
would become flesh in all political actions to such a degree that the state will
cease to weigh so heavily, becoming lighter, more transparent, and more
public and democratic. This would not be a minimal state (which leaves everything
to the market or to the impossibility of perfect citizens99), but more accurately a
subjectivized state in which the citizens will participate to such a degree
that the existing institutional sphere will shift toward transparency, the
bureaucracy will be the minimum necessary, while its efficacy and
instrumentality when it comes to the permanence and extension of human
life will nevertheless be at a maximum. I do not believe that it makes sense
to attempt to transform political institutions without the state, without
exercising power which is communicative, democratic, legitimate,
participatory, socialized, and popular. It is, however, possible to declare a postulate which
could never be realized, but which functions like the North Star that helped the Chinese navigators to
sail at night. Despite all that I have expounded, I think that the postulate of the dissolution of the state is
a strategic orienting principle that functions as a regulative horizon.