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The Violence of Liberal Democracy Author(s): Slavoj iek Source: Assemblage, No. 20, Violence, Space (Apr.

, 1993), pp. 92-93 Published by: The MIT Press Stable URL: Accessed: 08/10/2010 13:29
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The Violenceof LiberalDemocracy

withthe liberal The problem democracy it is thata priori, structural for reasons, cannotbe universalized. Hegelsaidthat of force the momentof victory a political the is the verymomentof its splitting: tri"new liberal-democratic world umphant order" moreandmoremarked a is by fromits frontier its separating "inside" betweenthosewho "outside"-afrontier to remain "within" "devel(the manage oped,"thoseto whomthe rulesof human and socialsecurity, apply), the etc., rights, of others,the excluded(themainconcern of them is to the "developed" apropos evenif containtheirexplosive potential, the priceto be paidforsuchcontainment democratic is the neglectof elementary not This principles).' opposition, the one and betweenthe capitalist the socialist is "bloc," whatdefinesthe contemporary bloc constellation: "socialist" wasthe the a desperate true"third attemptat way," of modernization outsidethe constraints at What is effectively stakein capitalism. statesis the present crisisof post-socialist the for precisely struggle one'splace,now has thatthe illusionof the "third way" who evaporated: willbe admitted"ininto side," capiintegrated the developed excluded talistorder, whowillremain and is the fromit?Ex-Yugoslaviaperhaps excase:everyactorin the bloody emplary endeavors leto playof its disintegration gitimizeits place"inside" presenting by civiitselfas the lastbastionof European lization(the current ideological designain tion forthe capitalist "inside") the face of oriental barbarism. the right-wing For this fronnationalist Austrians, imaginary the chainbetieris Karavanke, mountain and tweenAustria Slovenia: beyondit, hordes the ruleof Slavic begins.Forthe this is nationalist Slovenes, frontier the Slovenia from river Kolpa, separating we whilethe Croatia: areMitteleuropa, in are involved Croatians already Balkan, ethnicfeudswhichreally do the irrational not concern us-we areon theirside,we with sympathize them,yet in the same with wayone sympathizes a thirdworld For the victimof aggression... Croatians, is of crucial frontier, course, the one bei.e. tweenthem andthe Serbians, betweenthe Westerncatholiccivilization

and the Easternorthodox collective spirit which cannot comprehend the values of Western individualism.Serbians,finally, conceive of themselves as the last line of defense of the Christian Europe against the fundamentalist dangerbodied forth by Muslim Albaniansand Bosnians. (It should be clear, now, who, within the space of ex-Yugoslavia,effectively behaves in the civilized "European" way: those at the verybottom of this ladder, excluded from all-Albanians and Muslim Bosnians.) The traditionalliberalopposition between "open"pluralist societies and "closed"nationalist-corporatist societies founded on the exclusion of the Other has thus to be brought to its point of self-reference:the liberalgaze itself functions accordingto the same logic, insofaras it is founded upon the exclusion of the Other to whom one attributes the fundamentalist nationalism, etc. On that account, events in ex-Yugoslaviaexemplify perfectlythe properlydialectical reversal: something which first appeared within the given set of circumstances as the most backwardelement, a left-over of the past, all of a sudden, with the shift in the general framework,emerges as the element of the future in the present context, as the premonition of what lies ahead. The outbursts of Balkannationalism were first dismissed as the death throes of Communist totalitarianismdisguised in new nationalist clothes, as a ridiculous anachronismthat trulybelongs to the nineteenth-century age of nationstates, not to our present era of multinationals and world-integration; however, it suddenly became clear that the ethnic conflicts of ex-Yugoslaviaoffer the first clear taste of the post-Cold War armed conflicts. This antagonistic splitting opens up the field for the KhmerRouge, Sendero Luminoso and other similarmovements which seem to personify"radicalEvil"in today's politics: if "fundamentalism" functions as a kind of "negativejudgement" on liberalcapitalism,as an inherent negation of the universalistclaim of liberalcapitalism,then movements such as Sendero Luminoso enact an "infinite

on of judgement" it. Inhis Philosophy of Right,Hegelconceives the "rabble as of (Poebel)" a necessary product the modern a society: non-integrated segment in the legalorder, frompartakprevented and ingof its benefits, forthisveryreason delivered fromanyresponsibilities tostructural wards it-a necessary surplus of excluded fromthe closedcircuit social edifice.It seemsthatonlytoday,withthe adventof latecapitalism, thisnotion has achieved adequate its realizaof "rabble" tion in socialreality, political through forces whichparadoxically the most unite antimodernism reradical (the indigenist fusalof everything definesmoderthat nity:market, money,individualism...) modern of withthe eminently project eftradition and facingthe entiresymbolic froma zero-point the case (in beginning the of Khmer this rouge, meantabolishing inentiresystemof education killing and constitutes What,precisely, tellectuals). if of the Senderistas the "shining path" not the ideato reinscribe construction the of socialism withinthe frame the return of to the ancientIncaempire? (TheKhmer theirregime the as Rougealsoconceived return the lost grandeur the old to of The Khmer kingdom.) resultof thisdesthe endeavor surmount antagoto perate is nismbetweentradition modernity and a doublenegation: radically a anti-capitalist movement(therefusal integration of intothe world to market) coupled a syshiertematicdissolution alltraditional of withthe archical sociallinks,beginning the family(atthe levelof "micro-power," functioned an as Khmer-Rouge regime in form, "anti-Oedipal" regime its purest i.e. as the "dictature adolescents," of institheirparents). gatingthemto denounce in of The trutharticulated the paradox thisdoublenegation thatcapitalism is itself cannotreproduce withoutthe supof pre-capitalist formsof sociallinks. port In otherwords, frompresenting case far a of exoticbarbarism, "radical of the Evil" is the Khmer Rougeandthe Senderistas the conceivable against background only of the constitutive of antagonism today's Thereis morethana contincapitalism. in gentidiosyncracy the factthat,in both of is cases,the leader the movement an



of intellectual skilled the subtleties well in the Westernculture(prior becoming to a Pol at revolutionary, Potwasa professor a French for lyceein PhnomPenh,known his subtlereadings Rimbaud of and Abimael Mallarme; Guzman, "presidente the of is Gonzalo," leader the Senderistas, a philosophy-professor preferred whose authors HegelandHeidegger and are whosedoctoral thesiswason Kant's of For it theory space...). this reason, is too simpleto conceive thesemoveof mentsas the lastembodiment the of millenarist radicalism whichstructures socialspaceas the exclusive beantagonism tween"us" "them," and for allowing no formsof mediation; possible instead, thesemovements a represent desperate constituattemptto avoidthe imbalance tiveof capitalism withoutseeking support in someprevious tradition to supposed enableus mastery thisimbalance of (the Islamic fundamentalism whichremains withinthislogicis forthatreason ultiinstrument modernof matelya perverted behindSendero ization).In otherwords, Luminoso's endeavor erasean entire to and tradition to beginfromthe zero-point in an act of creative thereis sublimation, the correct into the complemeninsight of and taryrelationship modernity tradition:anytruereturn tradition todaya to is its to priori impossible, roleis simply serve as a shock-absorber the process for of modernization. The Khmer Rougeandthe Senderistas therefore functionas a kindof "infinite on in judgement" late capitalism the precise Kantian senseof the term:theyare to be locatedin a thirddomainbeyond the inherent that antagonism definesthe late-capitalist dynamic(the antagonism betweenthe modernist driveandthe fundamentalist sincethey backlash), radically rejectboth polesof the opposition.As such,theyare-to put it in Hegelese-an integral of the notion part if of late capitalism: one wantsto comas one prisecapitalism a world-system, musttakeinto accountits inherentnegaas tion, the "fundamentalism,"wellas its absolutenegation, infinitejudgethe ment on it.

It is against this backgroundthat one must judge the significanceof the renewed (symbolicand real) violence in against "foreigners" the developed Western countries.Aproposof the French Revolution, Kant wrote that its world-historical significanceis not to be sought in what actuallyhappened on the streets of Paris,but in the enthusiasm this endeavor to realize freedom arousedin the educated, enlightened public: it may well be true that what actuallytook place in Paris was horrifying,that the most repulsive passionswere let loose, yet the reverberations of these events within the enlightened public all around Europebears witness not only to the possibilityof freedom, but also to the veryactualityof the tendency towardsfreedom qua anthropological fact.2The same step-the shift from the event's immediate realityto the modality of its inscriptioninto the big Other epitomized by passiveobservers-is to be repeated aproposof the anti-immigrantviolent outbursts in Germanyin the Summer of 1992 (in Rostock and other cities in the ex-East Germany):the true meaning of these events is to be sought in the fact that the neo-Nazi pogromsmet with approvalor at least "understanding" in the silent majorityof observers-even some top Social Democratic politicians used them as an argument for reconsidering German Liberalimmigrantpolicies. This shift in the zeitgeist is where the real dangerlurks:it preparesthe ground for the possible hegemony of an ideology which perceivesthe presence of "aliens" as a threat to national identity, as the principalcause of antagonismsthat divide the political body. What we must be particularlyattentive to is the difference between this "postmodern"racism which now rages around Europe and the traditional form of racism. The old racism was direct and raw-"they" (Jews,Blacks,Arabs, Eastern Europeans...) are lazy, violent, plotting, eroding our national substance... whereas the new racism is "reflected,"as it were squared, racism, which is why it can well assume the form of its opposite, of the fight against racism. Etienne

hit Balibar the mark baptizing it by

"meta-racism."3 That is to say, how does

a "postmodern" racistreactto the outburstsin Rostock? or she of course He horror repulsion and beginsby expressing at the neo-Naziviolence,yet is quickto addthat these events,deplorable they as mustbe seen in theircontext:they are, a areactually perverted, distorted expressionandeffectof a trueproblem, namely that in contemporary the Babylon experience of belonging a well-defined to ethnic community whichgivesmeaningto the individual's is losingground... life In are short,the trueculprits cosmopolitic universalists in the nameof who, mix "multiculturalism," racesand set in motionnatural self-dethereby fencemechanisms.4 is Apartheid thusleas the ultimateformof gitimized as to raanti-racism, an endeavor prevent cialtensionsandconflicts... What we havehereis a palpable exampleof what Lacan in mindwhenhe insiststhat has "there no metalanguage": distance is the betweenmetaracism racism void, and is metaracism racism is andsimple,all pure the moredangerous posingas its opfor racistmeasures as positeandadvocating the veryformof fightingracism.
1. This split is thereforethe veryformof the universalityof the liberaldemocracy: liberal-

world democratic "new order" affirms its universal this scopebywayof imposing splitas the determining the antagonism, structuring of relations. principle, inter-andinternational Whatwe havehereis an elementary of the case of dialectic identity difference: very and the of "order" identity the liberal-democratic in consists the scissure whichseparates its from "inside" its "outside." 2. Immanuel The Kant, Conflict the of and of Faculties, (Lincoln London: University Nebraska Press,1992)p. 153. 3. See EtienneBalibar, Therea 'Neo"Is in and Racism'?," EtienneBalibar Emmanuel Wallerstein, Race,Nation,Class,(London: Verso Books, 1991). 4. Or,to quotefrom recent a letterto Newsweek it's unnatural magazine: "Maybe fundamentally fordifferent or races ethnicgroups live to ... the together. Whileno onecancondone attacks in the against foreigners Germany, Germans every have to right insistthattheir remain German." country ethnically