[OPE-L:8647] Capital,Civilization,Barbarians,Multiculturalists (Aziz Al-Azmeh)

From: Rakesh Bhandari (rakeshb@stanford.edu)
Date: Thu Mar 20 2003 - 18:43:03 EST


Aziz Al-Azmeh

Almost exactly one hundered years after the Communist Manifesto, the 
spectre of Communism again haunted the old powers of Europe and 
elsewhere, and compelled them to enter into a holy alliance under the 
signature of freedom, and under the title of the Cold War. Several 
times over the previous century, this particular spectre had haunted 
much of Europe, to which the response was chauvinism, jingoism, 
nationalist mystification,the domestication of Social Democracy, in 
addition to to police and military action, most notably following the 
First World War.

This time, the response was materialist. The Keynesian consensus 
following World War 2, and the New Deal preceding it, led to the 
relative humanization of capital : the "shameless, direct, brutal 
exploitation" of which Marx and Engels spoke in 1848, hitherto 
masked, contrary to the statement of the Communist Manifesto, by 
religious and political illusions, was now materially ameliorated. 
Correlatively, the history of capitalism was rewritten as a history 
of benign democracy, and the fascistoid right-wing ideologies and 
practices, social and political, that had predominated in Europe and 
the United States, precipitating the Second World War, were in 
varying ways excised from memory. At the same time rise to 
prominence, against stiff opposition, anti-racist and anti-colonial 
movements and ideologies, all of them nourished by the universal 
ideas of self-determination and of social improvement, deriving 
sustenance from historicism in both its Marxist and positivist 
variants. Thus arose programmes of national liberation, and of 
economic, social, and cultural development, all informed by a 
universalist humanism.

It is no accident that there is a fully-fledged reversal of these 
global trends, which have now come into predominance after the 
world-historical events of 1989. To the natural theology of the 
market, both in metropolitan countries and in territories under the 
dominance of international financial institutions, naked exploitation 
has, in the way of all ideologies, been consecrated as a right 
deriving from the natural condition of social relations, described in 
terms of perfectly elastic market conditions. I am not concerned here 
with the impact of this on internal European and North American 
conditions, but with the re-barbarization of outsiders, which 
sometoimes takes on the benign appearance of multi-culturalism, 
premissed on a culturalist differentialism, and correlatively on 
pronouncing upon "communities", religions, and nations in terms of 
unhitorical predispositions. It is unsurprising in this context that 
we should constantly come across distanciating admiration of this 
sort for all manner of bizarre or dangerous political phenomena, such 
as political Islamism or Hinduism, deemed fitting and appropriate -- 
indeed, natural, fated -- for some other, more colourful, less 
civilized peoples. The slogan under which this is officiated is the 
right to anti-modernism, a right no longer considered as the 
sentimentalist philistinism which it is, and as what it was regarded 
by left-wing movements, but as a matter arising from nature. 
Industrial civilization is taken for a condition of disenchantment. 
The history of the colonial and post-colonial periods is here taken 
for a time of change unwarranted, indeed rendered impossible, by an 
infra-historical nature inhering in Muslims, Hindus, and others.

A cardinal principle for the cognitive regime of modernity is 
historicism. This implied the valorization of history by associating 
substantive notions of change with the passage of time. Historicism, 
calling up names like Hegel and Marx -- as distinct from the 
historist doctrine, which was also perfected in Germany and provides 
the conceptual bedrock of notions of Hindutva as of Islamism -- is a 
notion of history and society as provinces of consequential change, 
not of substantive abidance or of naturalistic fatalism within the 
boundaries of self-subsistent and self-consistent cultures, or 
culture-nations, and historicism took on many forms, not least those 
of evolutionism, of progressivism, with or without teleological 

Yet the malaise of civilization and of progress was always the 
leitmotif of retrogressive and repressive social and political 
forces, and of great salience to the jingoist anti-Communism of the 
past century, and there were under the regime of modernity, grosso 
modo, two distinctive tempers that have dwelt upon the misfortunes of 
civilization in general. One rationalist, yet despairing of the 
historical possibility of rationality and its generalization within 
society and among societies. The other is historist, 
anti-rationalist, indeed irrationalist, decrying reason and progress 
because they damaged the natural constitution of society, and is 
generally associated with conservatism. This second temper has often 
-- and still is -- been associated with some form of 
anti-industrialism or romantic and pietistic anti-capitalism, and 
sometimes celebrates a prelapsarian past -- of national vigour and 
simplicity, of order and hierarchy, of pure and primal religious 
life, or simply of life according to nature -- as a time of plenitude 
and harmony. Notions of pre-colonialist Arcadianism among 
conservatives in the South, today duplicated and somewhat 
impoverished by post-modernist communalists in India and elsewhere. 
We may characterize the former temper as rationalist, the latter as 
Romantic, the one associated with Jacobinism, the other with various 
forms of romantic chauvinism.

Against the Enlightenment, accelerated by the French revolution and 
the internationlization of the republicanist model of social and 
political organization through Napoleonic action and example in 
Europe, Ottoman lands, and Latin America , a profound seam of 
anti-Enlightenment speculation and action was in place. In Europe, 
most particularly in Germany and England, with Burke, Hamann, and 
Herder among countless lesser others, it took the form of a diffuse 
but often virulent anti-Gallicism; in France itself the Enlightenment 
was vigorously combatted after the Revolution by royalists and other 
Catholics like de Maistre and Bonald in terms which became standard 
statements of hierarchical organism, and this was of course countered 
by very strong positivist and evolutionist tendencies.

Despite these tensions and antagonisms, the boundaries were not 
always fast and firm, and German organismic and vitalist theories of 
nations and cultures were nevertheless resonant and deeply 
influential. This is not least because historism, by substituting a 
particularistic and incommensurable anthropology of the Volksgeist 
for history, posits a natural history of society to which time is 
somehow incidental and insubstantive, a natural history which, in 
certain inflections, might also be regarded in the spirit of certain 
Enlightenment notions of deterministic naturalism: these were 
manifestly important for Gobineau and to all subsequent racialist 
theories. The consequence of this is of course a thesis which goes 
very much in the opposite sense to Popper's famous but ignorant 
critique of historicism, for it is historicism which makes it 
possible to think of human liberty concretely, and not some 
ahistorical liberalism or English pragmatic beliefs in the crooked 
timber of humanity.

Generally speaking, civilization was thought, in this perspective, to 
be something very precarious, resting uncertainly and improbably on a 
seething magma of barbarity, of primal humanity that, by virtue of 
the nature to which it is fated, eluded the dream of rational life, 
but which, in a social-Darwinist world, was saved from 
self-destruction by Malthusian mechanisms, held to have been 
incontrovertible mechanisms for the regulation of the inferior 
proletariat well into the writings of a Keynes, sand certainly, as 
applied to the South today, in the beliefs and practices of many 
international organizations. This primal humanity eluded the 
generalization of civility, the acquisition of a distinctive sense of 
time and temporality, the internatization of external coercion, and 
many other collateral processes of civilization.

Yet this restless human magma did not consist only of uncouth 
rustics, drunken tradesmen, and domestic servants, but crucially 
constituted crowds, imposed universal suffrage upon reluctant 
authorities, participated in revolutions, manned barricades, set up 
communes, executed priests, fulfilled the spectral promises made in 
the opening passage of The Communist Manifesto. It made a spectacle 
of historical change, and this was regarded by its betters as 
evidence of irrationality unrelated to social conditions of eruption. 
And it was indeed by means of irrationalist suggestions that this 
Geenie on the streets was wrapped up and domesticated, by means of 
jingoism, imperialism and war -- the Geenie without, the colonial or 
the primitive, had not yet arrived as an active agency. But 
Barbarians both inside and outside were alike, for Frazer as for many 
others: Adolphe Blanqui was only one of very many nineteenth century 
Frenchmen to compare Algeria and other colonies with various parts of 
France as yet uncivilized.

Of course, those who despaired of civilization, most particularly 
conservatives, took the short step from indicating the parlous 
fragility of civilized order to affirming inevitable, cyclical or 
linear decline, degeneration, and atrophy. There was a large body of 
writing on degeneration around the fin-de-siècle and up to the end of 
the Second World War, a fevered time by all accounts, most 
particularly after the First World War and the revolutionary waves 
that followed it. Albert Freeman declared the industrial proletariat 
of American Taylorism and Fordism to be submen. For his part, the 
prominent Zionist Max Nordau , who changed his original surname 
(Sµdstern) from one that indicated the uncertainty of the South to 
one implying Northern virility, was by no means the only one to speak 
at length of decadence, of decadent art and poetry; he utilized 
physiognomic and other theories of criminality current in the late 
nineteenth century, particularly writings of Lambroso, to expostulate 
on biological degeneration, in a manner fully anticipating the 
equally romantic cultural policies and the culture criticism of 
Entartung (degeneration) of National Socialism. Degeneration of the 
lower orders of society came metaphorically to stand for their 
uncertain subordination in an age of revolution. Alexis Carrell, 
celebrated eugenist and winner of the Nobel Prize for medicine who, 
after a career in New York laboratories, became the cultural and 
scientific oracle of the Maréchal Pétain at Vichy, deplored the 
proletarian degeneration of the energetic and intelligent northern 
stocks, emasculated by massification, and incapable of improvement or 
elevation. I mention this person because he is of particular interest 
to me; Carrell's once-famous book, L'Homme, cet inconnu, has been 
highly influential on some prominent radical Muslim fundamentalist 
thinkers (Qutb in the Arab World, Mawdudi in India and Pakistan, 
Shariati in Iran) of the 1950s and 60s, who appreciated both his 
ramblings about degeneration, and his staunch belief in a small 
guiding minority.

Let us move more than half a century ahead, to the close of the 
millennium, to the present moment of deregulation and 
neo-globalization . The intervening period witnessed the rise of 
means other than authoritarianism and warmongering to deal with the 
barbaric magma below and to assimilate it. This was the Keynesian 
consensus that followed from the Second World War and from the vigour 
displayed by the Soviet Union -- the necessity of employment for all, 
the welfare state, the New Deal, later in the United States Johnson's 
Great Society and the idea of affirmative action or positive 
discrimination. In the case of Keynes himself, this must be seen 
against the background of private ideas contained in his 
correspondence, which regarded the proletariat as a degenerate mass, 
for whom the Keynesian programme of employment and welfarism may be 
regarded as a programme for social prophylaxis.

Yet these developments entailed not only the socialization and 
elevation of the commoner, but also his consequent de-Barbarization. 
In the Third World -- and I am here starting my change of key -- this 
was the great era of the UNESCO, the UNDP, of national independence 
and non-alignment, of comprehensive development programmes, all of 
which led to the predominance of another discourse on outsiders, the 
de-Barbarizing discourse of universal development, of take-off, 
except amongst circles in Europe which were then thought to be 
hopelessly anachronistic. The Barbarian outsider, the colonial, was 
becoming an ex-colonial, and was no longer generally inert and only 
furtively active in his unreason. The Barbarian outsider was being 
elevated and assimilited in his turn

The great change of the 1980s, in which the Keynesian basis of the 
post-war order was jettisoned, became possible, with indecent haste, 
once the alternative historical Jacobin project available since the 
Bolshevik revolution was no longer available -- capitalism had taken 
over socialist ideas just as as nineteenth-century authoritarians 
like Gladstone and Bismarck took over ideas of universal suffrage. 
While Keynesian policies and ideas were triumphant, the more archaic 
fundamentalism of free market economics was confined to the margins: 
Friedrich von Hayek, most abidingly, no less that the younger Milton 
Friedman who, as early as 1968, was speaking of a "natural" rate of 
unemployment ("The Role of Monetary Policy", in The American Econ. 
Rev., LVIII, 1968, 1-17). Today, in the name of a tawdry natural 
theology of the market, is being reproduced just this turbulent 
magma, within Europe and without, constituting what Toynbee called a 
new proletariat, internal and external, which owes nothing to 
civilization: with remarkable prescience, Toynbee used the term "the 
post-modern age" as early as 1954 (he had already used it in 1939, 
but only loosely and for immediate convenience), to designate the 
decline in the modernist European middle classes of the nineteenth 
century from about 1875, and the rise of these protoplasmic 
proletariats &emdash; these were historical processes that 
precipitated the events of 1917-1920, the rise of National Socialism, 
and the Second World War. All these events interrupted the post-1875 
trend identified by the great British historian, and were compounded 
by the social prophylaxis of Keynesianism, leading to its 
century-long delay.

With the collapse of Communism and of the Western Keynesianism 
correlative with it came the almost total disappearance of the notion 
of economic and social development for countries of the South. This 
was replaced by notions of structural adjustment in the economy and 
an emphasis on romantically anti-state, and therefore anti-national 
locality in social development, or attempts to reformulate community 
of various descriptions and amplitudes in the image of a national 
state. All this was made in terms, and in the name, of a market 
regarded to be the natural as well as the desirable state of mankind. 
Equally of the order of nature in this perspective are various areas 
of deregulation, which have come to comprise state, culture, and 
society in deliberate involution: all of these are of course matters 
familiar from the cant of what we may call culturalist 
conservationism on a world scale. In the same breath, structural 
marginality and the existence of large permanent rates of 
unemployment, the segmentation of the labour market, geographical, 
ethnic, and other forms of segregation, became facts of life, facts 
of nature. Toynbee's proletariat becomes a vast metaphor for 
socio-cultural and consequently political marginality, both internal 
and external.

With this came the remarkable revival in the West of extremist 
nationalism and militant racism, associated with a broad, effective, 
quite diffuse, revival après la lettre, as it were, of the classical 
repertoire of romantic, conservative, vitalist conceptions of society 
and of history of which I have spoken. Notions of natural, almost 
biological boundaries of inter-group sympathy, of the impossibility 
of coexistence or integration, are all notions deriving from this 
repertoire, and are freely used by politicians as if they were 
matters of neutral self-evidence. What I am suggesting is that the 
present moment is marked by a culturalist turn, which totalizes the 
social inside as well as the social outside, and which sublimates the 
notion of race into the notion of culture and of specificity, which 
reifies international economic exchanges and political hegemonism by 
recourse to the notion of cultural Difference, grounded in modes of 
thought about society and culture that describe themselves as 
post-modernist. Like the Kulturkritik I referred to and the 
Lebensphilosophie associated with it, this position claims the 
recovery of things hidden by civilization, the abiding pre-modernity 
of others palatable to post-modernist taste, backwardness restituted 
from the snares of the Enlightenment and the modernities it spawned, 
a prior order of nature, a vital force, rising up as a mystery of 
infra-historical organisms that dwell beyond time. Once deregulated 
in this fashion, culture follows the market in its awakening, in its 
irredentism, in its voracity. I am not making a rhetorical point 
here: the privatization of culture entails its relegation, in 
practice and in principle, simultaneously to foreign, global actors 
like Non-Governmental organizations who have become primary 
deliverers of cultural development aid (in the name of 
multiculturalism, of local democracy, and of other shibboleths), and 
to private retrogressive political forces internally, duly gentrified 
in post-modern social theory, in the name of authenticity.

I know that the vitalist, organismic, romantic genealogy of seemingly 
liberal post-modernism, is not immediately recognizable, and this is 
unsurprising. Collective amnesia and the organized public manufacture 
of memory made generalizable by formidable means of communication, 
and the devalorization of lived historical memory in favour of the 
virtual, are essential to post-modernist mystification, and this is 
not lost on one of its prophets -- I refer to J.-F. Lyotard's best 
book, Le post-modernisme expliqué aux enfants [Post-Modernism 
explained to Children] , although I must say that this connection 
with romanticism and pragmatism is celebrated in post-modernist 
literary-critical histories of that particular calling. Standard 
text-books of social or political theory give romanticism and 
vitalism decidedly minor positions in the history of the nineteenth 
and the first half of our own century, out of keeping with their 
historical weight, although it must be said that this was not the 
case in writings emanating from the Soviet Block, not all of which 
was propagandist, and the most famous of which was of course Lukacs' 
famous Die Zerstörung der Vernunft [The Destruction of Reason] .

Not unnaturally, this irrationalism, reinforced by the predominance 
of pre-literate forms of communication, generates an atmosphere of 
infernal conspiracy pervading public life: phantasmagoric scenarios 
concerning the War of Civilizations, from Samuel Huntington to 
lesser-known tinkerers with words, the demonization with definite 
political purpose of, variously, the PLO, Saddam Hussein, and of 
Muslims in general, as had been the case in the very proximate past, 
with the demonization of Communism, with prohibitionism and other 
public agendas in the political culture of the United States. These 
are all instances of mass-hysterical phenomena, like Mc Carthyism, 
various discourses on international conspiracies by Jesuits (in the 
eyes of the Left in Catholic countries), of Freemasons (by Jesuits).

>From the Barbarian within I come again to the Barbarian without. We 
have seen that the primitive, the Barbarian, the outsider, the 
lagard, and a host of other antitheses or failures of civilization 
are bound together, as a generic group of cultural categories, with 
similar conditions of emergence in the civilized imaginaire. In 
juxtaposition with a re-constitution, in conditions of the acute 
post-Keynesian crisis I mentioned, of the tribally-conceived Northern 
inside, riven with contradictions and indelibly marked by savagery as 
I have indicated, as happily post-modern, as being beyond modernity 
in the sole sense, as I see it, of being based on a modernity 
accomplished and renewed, whose normative, epistemological, and 
aesthetic equipment is no longer necessary for the maintenance and 
management of the public order, normative functions having been 
re-allocated to very thoroughgoing forms of the manipulation of 
consent -- in conjunction with this is a culturalist construction of 
outsiders, as being themselves also in the mode of return to origins 
occluded. And just as notions of citizenship are being questioned, 
most saliently in the United States, on grounds of communalism , so 
also are people of the South regarded from this perspective, and 
within the categories of North American multiculturalist practices; 
in this way, members of various western intelligentsias present 
themselves as midwives of the authenticity of others, construing what 
they term 'civil society' by the invention of pre-civil conceptions.

Altogether, this re-Barbarization of the outsider takes the form of 
liberal sensibility. In learned discourse it takes the form of 
appropriating the anti-Orientalist theses of Edward Said: in this way 
orientals, especially those who describe themselves, quite 
implausibly but without any sense of irony, as post-colonial, in 
objective complicity with fundamentalist priests of authenticity, 
merge into the vicious cycle of this discourse of singularity: 
orientals are thus re-orientalized in a traffic of mirror images 
between post-modernists and neo-Orientalists speaking for Difference, 
and native orientals ostentatiously displaying their badges of 
authenticity, in a play of exotism from outside and self-parody from 
the inside. In this context, the discourse of culturalist specificity 
-- instead of that of economic and social inequality and inequity -- 
devolves to a post-1989 postulate concerning the congenital 
incapacity for modernity in a world of deregulation, hence for the 
economic, social, and political treatment of economic, political, and 
social problems, arising from the recent forms of globalization and 
deregulation, and giving rise to the spectres of terrorism and 

The re-Barbarization of the Southerner transforms him, beyond history 
and the international inequity of resources, into tribal warrior, 
refugee, asylum seeker or illegal immigrant -- as if these last were 
crossing the Mediterranean over to the Shangri-La, when they know 
full-well they are crossing the River Styx to lands of darkness and 
intense unsociability. The Southerner thus re-Barbarized turns into a 
terrorist and fundamentalist. Inept and incapable of development, he 
becomes the pathetic victim of famine and anarchy, to which he is 
culturally predisposed. Uncivilized and only superficially touched by 
modernity, he becomes again prone to tribalism and to wars of 
ethnicity and religion, all construed as the results of a natural 
history beyond human agency. Once again, we encounter the banality of 
irresponsibility, and we encounter a Barbarian construed as eternal 
when this construal itself is based on a system of relations which is 
mystified in the name of nature. Yet the midwives of Barbarian 
authenticity do not speak with the voice of nature, for she has no 
voice, but of naturalism and of a deterministic natural history of 
the cultures of others, not of reality, but of virtual memory 
marketed. The aesthetic of exotism and the ditinctions based on 
wealth merge yet again.

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