Thursday, January 19, 2017

First as Farce, Second as Clickbait

“All experts serve the state and the media and only in that way do they achieve their status. Every expert follows his master, for all former possibilities for independence have been gradually reduced to nil by present society’s mode of organisation. The most useful expert, of course, is the one who can lie. With their different motives, those who need experts are falsifiers and fools. Whenever individuals lose the capacity to see things for themselves, the expert is there to offer absolute reassurance.”
Guy Debord, Comments on Society of the Spectacle tr. Malcolm Imrie (London: Verso, 1990), 16-17.

In the 1869 preface to the second edition of his 1852 journalistic work, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, Marx positions his work alongside those of Victor Hugo and Joseph Proudhon in describing the same historical events, those surrounding the consecration of executive authority in the hands of a rank and petty amateur. Marx writes that Hugo merely “confines himself to bitter and witty invective,”[1] and that the actual event only appears in Hugo’s work “like a bolt from the blue. . . the violent act of a single individual.”[2] Conversely, Marx charges that while Proudhon’s work emphasizes that the coup d’etat was “the result of preceding historical development,”[3] it nonetheless errantly ascribes to the election of Bonaparte a kind of ontological historical necessity and thereby “becomes a historical apologia for its hero.”[4] In opposition to both, Marx writes, his work rather demonstrated “how the class struggle in France created circumstances and relations that made it possible for a grotesque mediocrity to play a hero’s part.”[5] That is, avoiding both the methodological pitfalls of assessing events in terms of isolated unilinear individuals, or in terms of an immutable and inexorable historical teleology, Marx’s journalistic work rather explains the system in which social forces contend with one another, and its contingent political surface effects, like the image of the despot, who must survive by sheer misdirection and obscure these subterranean social forces. In the Eighteenth Brumaire we find:

“Alliances whose first proviso is separation; struggles whose first law is indecision; wild, inane agitation in the name of tranquillity; most solemn preaching of tranquillity in the name of revolution; passions without truth, truths without passion; heroes without heroic deeds, history without events; development, whose sole driving force seems to be the calendar, made wearisome through constant repetition of the same tensions and relaxations; antagonisms that periodically seem to work themselves up to a climax only to lose their sharpness and fall away without being able to resolve themselves; pretentiously paraded exertions and philistine terror at the danger of the world coming to an end, and at the same time the pettiest intrigues and court comedies played by the world redeemers, who in their laissez-allera remind us less of the Day of Judgment than of the times of the Fronde — the official collective genius of France brought to naught by the artful stupidity of a single individual; the collective will of the nation, as often as it speaks through universal suffrage, seeking its appropriate expression through the inveterate enemies of the interests of the masses, until at length it finds it in the self-will of a freebooter. If any section of history has been painted grey on grey, it is this.”

Karl Marx, “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon (1852)” Marx & Engels Collected Works Vol XI (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 2010), 125.

Liberalism is a refusal to acknowledge the reality that the world is structured according to the economic class interests of the owners in society, to the exclusion of everyone else. It is however, a cynical, or falsely-enlightened refusal, in that while both the owners in society and their ideological supplicants know this structuration to be basis of contemporary class rule and its social symptoms, its effects are only discernible from their discourse in relief, i.e. the outline or membrane of unmentioned or obscured causative substance in Events. The effort to hold back History, to try to encase class rule of the owners within a technocratic veneer, functions by constantly restricting its own horizons of possibility, and making these restricted horizons objective; its technicians are not the best at their respective crafts, but merely the best among those willing to sublate their living-labour into an objective element of their own subordination. What is so particularly galling about the conflation of neoliberal managerialism with unfettered technical expertise is that all too often this ‘expertise’ is marshalled into the service of a mass ignorance, the liquidation of historical knowledge in general, a short-circuting of rational interrogation of the recent past, an immediate organization of public forgetting. Debord writes that “with the destruction of history, contemporary events themselves retreat into a remote and fabulous realm of unverifiable stores, uncheckable statistics, unlikely explanations and untenable reasoning.”[6]

[1] Karl Marx, "Preface to the Second Edition of the Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon (1869)" Marx & Engels Collected Works Vol XXI (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 2010), 56.
[2] Ibid, 57.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Guy Debord, Comments on Society of the Spectacle tr. Malcolm Imrie (London: Verso, 1990), 16.

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