02.10.2016

The end of “the West as we know it”? The post-factual age and the “continuation of capitalism by other means”

As Germany celebrates the twenty-sixth anniversary of its unification tomorrow, i.e. the date when East Germany, at least “technically”, was being incorporated into “the West”, by joining the EU (then EC) and Nato, this “West” (if it has ever existed as such a monolithic bloc) might not be a valid concept anymore soon.


Donald Trump, the most prominent of the "post-factual" political actors. He was spot-on when he described the attitude of his followers: "I have the most loyal people. (...) I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn't lose any voters" (January 23rd, 2016)


Critics of “the West” and the neo-imperialist globalization it has, no doubt, been promoting over the last decades, might find this a development to be welcomed, and see this as a chance to argue for a more emancipatory, anti-colonial “post-Western” world order, yet, unfortunately, judging by recent and the current elections, events and political climate, the “alternatives” that are more likely to be popular among the broader populace, at least in most of Europe and the US, are not emancipatory, but regressive.


Disregarding any such more idealistic visions of an independent, “equal”, “fair”, “post-Western” “global” or at least overarching governance, realistically, the alternatives of governance within our political systems are, sadly, confined to “more of the same” or “regression”. Whereas the former (the “established” political classes) have, to put it mildly, on the whole failed to come up with answers to the (old and new) challenges of an increasingly unbounded world (dis)order, the latter (the (old) new regressives) have challenged them on this; not by delivering real alternatives, but by reverting back to less complex, yet more regressive, pseudo-“solutions”. In doing so, they have, as mentioned above, also managed to contrive a post-factual “ideology”, each according to the situation of their own country. What Friedrich Nietzsche has called „Die Umwertung aller Werte“ (the ”transvaluation of (all) values“)1 when speaking of the advent of nihilism replacing religion in the early modern era, could nowadays, in our post-postmodern (?) era be described as the “transvaluation of (all) facts”, a process where facts are increasingly being replaced by stereotypical counterfactuals, or to put it more bluntly, lies.


"Vote Leave" Poster in Omagh, Northern Ireland. The "fact" stated on this poster was later debunked as untrue. Firstly, the amount is closer to  £35 million.1 Secondly, the claim that EU money can, after Brexit, instead be spent on Britain's NHS just like that, is "misleading".2



In other words, one of the developments is the tendency that almost amalgamous, unitary, centrist governments or parties (normalcy in Austria and increasingly in Germany) are in power, without the above visions or ambitions, i.e. the normalization of grand coalitions comprising those, i.e. the “established“, parties, and the increasing absence of a real political culture of opposing, polarizing positions. The other one is that we are set, as early as 2017, to experience the advent into (official, not only hegemonic) power of (even more extreme) right-wing, proto-fascist or openly fascist governments, who are increasingly dominating the political sphere in the post-factual era, not only in smaller, but in major Western countries. They have already taken over in some Western or other countries, e.g. in Hungary, Poland and the Philippines. All of these regressive to fascist governments target different groups, according to the (perceived) “threat” they pose to the “values” of the respective country. In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte, has publicly likened himself to Hitler in his ambition to “happily slaughter” the “three million criminals” (referring to drug dealers and addicts) in his country. This is what he promotes as the very simple “solution” to the “drug problem” there. Poland's ruling Conservative PiS party of Prime Minister 
Beata Szydło is pushing for the country's already very restrictive abortion law to be toughened even more, which would mean a near-total ban on any termination of a pregnancy, i.e. the abolition of women's right to abortion, citing its Catholic family values as being incompatible with these basic rights of women. In Hungary a referendum is held today, officially about EU refugee quotas, but in which de facto the ultra-nationalist government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban is seeking the approval by the electorate of its racist and xenophobic ideology, basically echoing the positions of the even more right-wing neo-nazi opposition party “Jobbik”; if it is valid and ends with a “Nem” (“no”) majority, is likely to increase Hungary's regression towards “splendid isolation”, which has been going on for more than half a decade now.2


But to be clear, the rise of post-factual pseudo-alternatives, again, is not a phenonemon of countries perceived as peripheral or “too small to matter” - and that's the backbone behind the “the end of the West as we know it” thesis. The post-factual political actors have taken over hegemony in many (or even most of the) major countries of the West. To wit, the majority of the electorate in the United Kingdom has, in what was probably the most momentous political decision, at least in Europe, this year, opted to leave the European Union, yet many of the politicians in favour of Brexit (Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and others) blurted out their (seemingly anti-systemic) message without delivering a clearly formulated plan for a future outside of the EU.



This is where, beyond the crude, xenophobic ideology, the failure of the post-factual political actors shows – it is the failure to come up with an all-encompassing, comprehensive plan beyond rhetoric or simple one-issue solutions. Donald Trump's “solving” the “immigration problem” by building build a wall at the border with Mexico and his “solving” “radical Islamic terrorism” by deporting all Muslims from the US, UKIP's ambition to end all, even intra-EU, migration into Britain (targeting “Bulgarians and Romanians”) are examples of this. France's or Belgiums “state of emergency” after the terrorist attacks there, and generally, across the board among the right-wing actors and parties in Europe, seeing the migration of Middle Easterners or Africans into Europe as the reason for terror attacks in “the West” (as if there hadn't been any attacks prior to the recent rise in migrants, and those mostly committed by homegrown and “native” terrorists anyway (Breivik)) are falling into the same category – all of these “solutions” are blowing a single issue up out of proportion and building a pseudo-universal worldview around it, onto which all the negative developments and evils (real or perceived, factual or counter-, i.e. post-factual) can be projected.

State of emergency, Paris, France, November 2015. It is now in its eleventh month,
as it was extended for another six months in June 2016.
Introspection or long-term cause-and-effect analysis is even less part of their post-factual narrative than it is in the narrative of the “mainstream” actors.


Those who see in these new post-factual political actors “revolutionaries” against the “mainstream” fail to see that (most of) these actors are the products and children of this mainstream, Trump being the prime example. Capitalism doesn't eat its own revolutionaries, it produces its own perpetuators (to paraphrase the famous phrase “the revolution eats its own children”, used in the French Revolution).


The new regressives are not anti-systemic or anti-capitalist, they are representatives of an even more fundamentalist capitalist systems, a capitalist system without “the human face”, stripped of its social-democratic checks and liberal rights, disregarding any social context and picking out as easy targets the weakest members of society. The extent to which, as it appears, the post-factual actors have already influenced their “mainstream counterparts” in moving the political discourse to the right is reminiscent of the neoconservative (or neoliberal) “revolution” (regression) of the era of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, which began thirty-five years ago.



Who are the followers of these post-factual politicians? They consist, firstly, of a constant number of old hardcore closet nationalists or nazis, that had been there for decades, but thus far have either been members or voters of one of the established parties (mostly the Conservatives, e.g. the Tories in Britain or the CDU/CSU in Germany) or who otherwise hadn't participated in the political process at all (or only outside the party system). For Germany, their number has been estimated by Heitmeyer in his ten-year study “Deutsche Zustände” (roughly: “German Circumstances”, 2002 to 2011) as amounting to approximately ten to 15%3. They now have come out of the closet, as in the refugee crisis, it has now become acceptable again to take far right-wing positions in the clothes of “legitimate criticism” or “worrying about the future”. Secondly, many disenchanted Europeans (and also people in other regions), have, to an extent rightly so, equaled the EU with austerity, poverty and (youth) unemployment, i.e. as failing to deliver the promise of “everyone being better off within the EU than outside of it”. The problem with this equation is that it has not only been the EU, but also the governments of the member states themselves who have implemented such pro-capitalist, anti-social policies (e.g. Gerhard Schröders “Agenda 2010” in the early 2000s in Germany, both Tory and Labour governments (not only) in the 2000s and 2010s in Britain, as well as many Central and East European governments in the post-communist era of the 1990s aspiring to be “posterchildren” of the new “economic freedom”). Reverting back to the framework of the national state, and with even more anti-social post-factual actors in power, is thus, to put it mildy, very unlikely to bring a development back to the status quo ante of these “reforms”. On the contrary, the ascent to power of these regressives or fascists will make things worse for those who are already disenchanted and disenfranchised, and despite all the rhetoric promising the contrary, this will be the case both for the autochthonous “natives” as well as the foreigners and/or recent migrants.



The “regressive revolutionaries” are thus only the continuation of capitalism by other means and the result of a system that, depending on the specifics of the country, is about to or has already destroyed its own fundamental checks by dismantling its own social-democratic or socialist elements and policies which so far have or had bolstered it (during the Cold War), e.g. having a middle class which overall has or had been supportive of both the system per se as well as its built-in checks. These checks, and the values of a social-democratic market economy (German 
“soziale Marktwirtschaft”
), had for a long time been one the main back bones of the identity of “the West” during the Cold War, in the US and Britain up until the “Reaganomics” era, and in Germany until the late 1990s or early 2000s. Getting rid of them, as well as the civil liberties and rights of both native and foreign populations (e.g. right of free movement for Europeans, right of asylum for refugees), and of women in particular (as in the case of Poland's new abortion law, and the regressive anti-female rhetoric in some of the post-factual parties' manifestos) is the second step that is threatening to bring about the definitive end of (this positive element of the) “West” as we know it. The “West” of the future thus, unfortunately, is highly unlikely to look friendlier, but on the contrary, even scarier than the current one.

footnotes: 
1 Nietzsche, „Jenseits von Gut und Böse“ ( “Beyond Good and Evil”), Leipzig 1886, and „Zur Genealogie der Moral“ (“On the Genealogy of Morality“), Leipzig 1887
2 However, as of Sunday late afternoon, the referendum looked unlikely to reach the 50% margin of participation necessary for it to be binding, If it ends up below 50% (regardless if the majority votes in favour of the government's stance, i.e. “Nem“ (“no“)), it would mean a blow to the government.
3 Heitmeyer, Deutsche Zustände, Frankfurt am Main 2002 (vol. 1) to 2011 (vol. 10).


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