Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Dropping the H-Bomb on Obama

"We can't be lulled into complacency. You have to remember that Adolf Hitler was elected in a democratic Germany. I'm not comparing him to Adolf Hitler. What I'm saying is there is the potential of going down that road."

Paul Broun

As someone who has been using the Mussolini trope from the beginning to understand Obama's appeal (for me), I'm in a poor position to be outraged at this statement. I have actually heard rumblings even from very liberal Americans much earlier in the campaign. Some had attended his rallies and were genuinely concerned about how Obama was able to make them feel. George Clooney told Charlie Rose (someone added very cheesy music to this) that Obama is the kind of man he'd follow anywhere, a real leader. Mainstream European journalists could not entirely conceal their mental associations of the DNC with the Nuremberg rallies. Etc.

Here's Norman Mailer's prelude to his assessment of Kennedy:

It was a hero America needed, a hero central to his time, a man whose personality might suggest contradictions and mysteries which could reach into the alienated circuits of the underground, because only a hero can capture the secret imagination of a people, and so be good for the vitality of a nation; a hero embodies the fantasy and so allows each private mind the liberty to consider its fantasy and find a way to grow. Each mind can become more conscious of its desire and waste less strength in hiding from itself. Roosevelt was such a hero, and Churchill, Lenin and De Gaulle; even Hitler, to take the most odious example of this thesis was a hero, the hero-as-monster... (PP, p. 42)*

I think it is safe to say that Obama has a pretty firm hold on the American imagination at this point. That gives him a particular kind of power that Bush has never had. And look at what Bush was able to accomplish. So the worry is a real one, and the only hope (I'm afraid) is that Hitler was not all bad, i.e., that his "heroism" (better: heroics) and "vitality", his power, could have been used for good—that his fantasy only incidentally became a monstrous reality.

*I think it is worth emphasizing that Norman Mailer here, in 1961, before Kennedy's election, in an article that he himself believed contributed to Kennedy's victory, but only 16 years after the end of WWII, is comparing Kennedy to Hitler. And Hitler to Roosevelt and Churchill. I don't think the remark stirred any public outrage. (If anyone knows of some, I'd love to see it.) Keeping the full argument in view: note that Pound wrote a pamphlet called simply Jefferson and/or Mussolini.


Francis Deblauwe said...

Aaah, Paul Broun! He fits right in with the rest of the shipwrecked G.O.P. A great cartoon about him and the recriminations flying back and forth on the Reasons To Be Cheerful, Part 3 blog!

Presskorn said...

This made think of one of Søren Ulrik Thomsen’s dictums, which one might translate as follows:

“Politics ought to be boring. When a political meeting becomes enthralling, when your heart starts to beat, when there are banners and eyes watering; then you ought to leave.”

Obama, then, is obviously not SUT’s kind of guy…

Thomas Basbøll said...

Nor would SUT dig Mailer, I guess. Actually, by temperament I agree with SUT.

But Pound (and my Pangrammatical studies) has convinced me that politics, ethics and pathos go together like science, epistemology, and logic.

Politics is a configuration of the affects. There are no political concepts. No such thing as "political thought".

There is political activity and scientific facticity. But there is no such thing as a political fact. No such thing as "political reality".

Science is the theory of the real. (Heidegger)

Politics is the practice of the ideal. (The Pangrammaticon)

Laura Carter said...

Great post, Thomas! I agree with your theses. I think I'm mostly worried about what everyone else is, the economy. Which is something of a science, at least from a Marxian perspective.

Thomas Basbøll said...

Thanks, Laura. New post coming up. Actually Marx was wrong about political economy. It's not a science. "Scientific politics" is straightforwardly un(pan)grammatical, as is "the science of history". There is only a politics of history. ("Natural history"? Yes, that's a misnomer too.)

The new post is precisely about unemployment, as seen through Pound's infatuation with Mussolini. (Again, we who see the financial crisis through our infatuation with Obama might learn something.)

Laura Carter said...

What is Marxian political science, then? Is economy also filtered through interpretive strategies that are hermeneutical rather than real (i.e. meaning-based rather than essential)?

Thomas Basbøll said...

It's not political science. It's ordinary political politics.

We might say that "theory" of class struggle is nothing other than the practice of class struggle. Perhaps not even a very effective one.

Marx was not so much "theorizing" the worker's feelings about industrial life as giving practical expression to his own bourgeois indignation.

Laura Carter said...

Then what does one do about Marx's theory of surplus-value, which certainly points things toward a realization of inequalities?

Thomas Basbøll said...

I'll work something into the promised post. Short answer: there are no facts about value. Therefore no (plausible) theory.

Presskorn said...

I am bit puzzled by your discussion with Laura about political economy and facts.

I really like your pangrammatical propositions, e.g. ”Politics is the practice of the ideal”. They are truly clarifying and in a sense like ordinary (Wittgensteinian) grammatical statements, i.e. partly constitutive of the semantics of their constituent terms.

But as any chap would, I become suspicious, when their consequences become contra-intuitive:

What were we discussing on this blog a few weeks, when we discussed the financial crisis and deflation etc., if not some sort of facts?

Of course, “deflation”, “financial crisis” and so forth are very abstract facts, not ordinary facts like the Russellian observation that “The cat on the mat.”. But this doesn’t remove the air of contra-intuitiveness for me.

You state that Marxian economic science is failure, since there are no facts about value. If you take that statement to include economic value, that strikes me as knocking on an open door; If anything is, it’s a basic axiom of Marx’s theory that value cannot be defined in terms of ordinary facts, i.e. in terms of the actual properties of the valued object.

Thomas Basbøll said...

There is an economy of fish and fishing (a marine ecology). Is there an ecology of stones and stoning (a political economy)?

There are economic acts and ecological facts. They push and pull against each other.

In ordinary language the practice/theory, politics/science distinctions don't really hold.

The pangrammatical elucidations are ultimately nonsensical (not just counter-intuitive) must be climbed and then thrown away like a ladder...

(where have I heard that before).

They are not just counter-intuitive but counter-institutional (i.e., revolutionary?).

Presskorn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Presskorn said...

Well, obviously these elucidations aren't nonsensical, although they proclaim to be just that.

(I've heard this said about some book).

There is no trying to whistle it.

Presskorn said...

What I mean is:

Since you've always been very explicit about it, I know very well that your pangrammatical propositions are, in a sense, “objects for deconstruction”. Yet I think it’s too much (too defensive?) to concede them in a Tractarian manner.

In terms of deconstruction, one should not assign an “ideal purity” to such a distinction as science/politics. And when it predictably turns out that this ideal purity is not to be found, one should not say that the distinction is then somehow profoundly problematized.

One should not buy into the old logical positivist idea that unless a distinction absolutely rigorous, it’s not a distinction at all.

(Here I’m taking my cue from Derrida, Limited Inc., p.114-5)(And of course from the late Wittgensteinian talk of “the ideal of exactness” and “the craving for generality”.)

To think the “dangerous supplement” to such distinctions, as you’ve spoken of elsewhere, is not to collapse them nor to leave them behind as Tractarian nonsense; it is to complicate them.

And actually, I think your propositions do a quite good job at that; a proposition such as “Politics is the practice of the ideal” is exceedingly complex.

It was wrong of me to say that I became suspicious of your propositions, because they were applied “contra-intuitively”. I’m not suspicious of your propositions; I was only suspicious of that particular application of them.

It’s strange that I’m now, in certain sense, the one to defend your propositions. But I wonder if you agree….