Beyond Capital

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Charlie Hebdo: Shun the liberal politics of condemnation

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Attacks, not merely on free speech, but on freedom of life itself, and yes, in all its myriad, multiple forms, can be effectively countered only if one begins thinking in terms of interventions that will radically shift the ground on which politics currently happens. And that, in my opinion, will have to begin with the effort to move away from the politics of condemnation as critique. For, regardless of whether the outrage that evokes such condemnation is in the idiom of majoritarianism(s) or minoritarianism(s), the politics of condemnation as critique is, in the face of such outrage, patently reactive and defensive. One that is, therefore, stuck on the political ground of precisely the enormities it purports to counter.

The politics of condemnation — or, to be more accurate, condemnation as politics — is thus stuck in the entirely ineffectual stance of insisting that it is equally critical of both minoritarian and majoritarian violence, notwithstanding its apparent, declarative vigour. Such horizontalisation of various forms of otherising violence, which have as their condition of possibility the structure of differential inclusion (productive inclusion through hierarchical exclusion), serves, in the final analysis, to reinforce and reproduce that structure and the abominations it makes possible. Therefore, such ‘even-handedness’ that condemnation as politics proudly displays, nay is compelled to display, is actually equivocation. In other words, the fight against various expressions of otherising hatred can hope to be effective only when it’s a subtraction from the reactive terms of responding to the operations of otherising violence.

Such subtraction, however, cannot occur as long as one is caught within the universe of the juridico-legal and its conception of peace, and thus fights shy of reclaiming and operationalising violence in a law-unravelling mode that is overdetermined by the will to solidarity. That is revolutionary violence, or what Walter Benjamin affirmed as the messianic “divine violence”. After all, the abominations and enormities one speaks of here are abominations and enormities not because they are violent. Quite the contrary, they are abominations and enormities precisely because their violence is otherising, and thus law-preserving.

Therefore, if one agrees that such “divine violence” is the only possible way in which attacks on free speech, and freedom of life in all its forms, can be effectively countered, one will have to begin thinking on how to make such divine violence possible in the concreteness of the here and now of history. And that is contingent on grasping how divine violence in its incipience, and thus also thwarted in that incipience, is objectively the heart of every action (repeat action), not ideology, of otherising violence, whether majoritarian or minoritarian. But one can begin to make sense of incipient divine violence in concrete socio-historical terms only when one starts redirecting one’s political-intellectual efforts towards patient and persevering inquiries into the concrete interplay of concrete causes behind various kinds of otherising violence in their concreteness. Alas, such redirection of intellectual politics cannot happen as long as one continues to think that writing articles for mainline newspapers and magazines in predetermined liberal terms of condemnation-as-criticism contributes in some measure towards countering different forms and kinds of expressions of otherising violence. If anything, struggles against such expressions, and their structural condition of possibility, and writing such well-meaning, heart-in-the-right-place kind of vigorously outraged articles are now at cross-purposes. And no this is not meant as an attack on radical elements among journalists, who have to write to earn their keep. This is the best they can manage within the constraints of such a compulsion. It’s meant for those ‘radicals’, and liberals, who strut around exhibiting such signed pieces of theirs as their badge of honour.

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