Quora answer: Is the marriage between democracy and capitalism really dead, as Zizek said?

Apr 08 2013

A good book to read about this is the Mirror of Production by Baudrillard. Basically it makes the point that both Capitalism and Communism assume that human beings essence is their productivity. This is the assumption that they share and that is the thing that makes the duality nihilistic, i.e. when you realize that Capitalism and Communism at a very fundamental level are the same both interpreting humans as being primarily productive beings.

By the way this is part of what Heidegger calls the enframing, i.e. that sees everything as resources, including human beings themselves. Both Capitalism and Communism assume that human beings are resources for economic production, i.e. Human Resources.

The only difference is who owns the means of production, in the case of capitalism there is private ownership based on control of capital needed to set up the production process, and in which skilled and unskilled labor is bought in a free labor market. In Communism it is supposedly the workers who own the means of production, but in reality it turned out to be the Party and thus the State that the Party controls. In Capitialism there is competition between at least two parties over control of the state. And the state regulates the markets that are within its borders. But the state does not in Captialism own the means of production except in the case where the state has nationalized some industry. This kind of partial ownership and strong regulation of what it does not own is called Socialism or Fascism. The difference between Fascism and Socialism is whether the “people” within the state are seen as a Folk, i.e. as having a national identity, or whether the “people” are seen as a mass. Fascism is called National Socialism, i.e. Socialism in which the Folk of the country are seen as having a particular character, or genetic make up, or race that sets them apart from other peoples and for whom the institutions are adapted specifically in some irrational way. Socialism which sees the people as a mass has no special adaptations of this kind. Hitler saw his own economic system as the middle ground between Capitalism and Communism which is oligarchical and in which the capitalism has to serve the interests of the nation, i.e. making munitions and armaments for instance.

What was unforeseen with respect to the Dictatorship of the Proletariat in which the intellectuals are supposed to rule until the Workers are capable of taking over rule, is that the dictatorship never ends. So both National Socialism and Communism which are in fact duals of each other and were locked into mortal conflict from the end of World War I in Germany in many street fights and riots. When Communism took over Russia and the Fascists took over Germany then this civil strife started to become a battle between the states. It was the preparation for this conflict that caused Hitler to invade Poland to garner what he called enough Living Room, i.e. a buffer between Germany and Russia. This conflict was the primary organizing factor of World War II because Hitler realized that it did not have easy access to petrol and other resources that Russia had, and Germany was relatively small compared to Russia. So Hitler decided to take over Europe to gain the size necessary to fight the Soviets on a more equal footing. In History books I do not think this perspective is normally considered. Normally it is the Allied Powers against the Axis Powers with Britain and America playing the leading role and the threat of Russia to Germany is not really mentioned as the number one factor organizing the dynamic of the build up to the war.

But of course we know what happened, the Allies defeated the Fascists after fierce fighting all over the world. But immediately there was a face off between the former allies against the Germans, i.e. the Soviets and the Americans and English, along with Western Europe which was liberated from the Germans by the English and the Americans.

Communism eventually fell in Russia, and Capitalism congratulated itself. But little did is suspect that its true enemy was about to arise, which was China. Communist China decided to modernise its economy and became Ultra Capitalist under the rule of the Communist Party. In perfect Capitalism there is unlimited resource of cheap, preferably slave labor and a unification strict regulation of private ownership under the control of the state. Hitler achieved this in his enslavement of unsavory members of his society from the point of view of his Race centered view of nationalism. So China has gone from a rural economy to an economy more like national socialism where the oligarchy is the members of the party itself. Nice thing about this is that there isn’t any regulation to deal with. Slave Labor plus No Regulation plus state control of the economy to assure monopolies continue to function without interference makes for almost perfect Capitalism. In light of this European Capitalism seems very inefficient because it is imperfect Capitalism which is regulated, where there are free labor markets, and monopolies discouraged except for utilities. European capitalism has the interference of the organization of Labor and collective bargaining to deal with which was the compromise that kept communism out of the European Labor force. So what we realize is that Capitalism has met its match in perfect capitalism under a modernizing at all costs Communist regime in China. Democracy is yet another of those inefficiencies that China has foregone, because it is inefficient to lose control of the State to another party in a cycle, and China does not have that problem. It believes in using extreme force to put down pro-democracy movements like that which happened in Tiananmen Square. So we might say that Capitalism has met its match in it is perfect capitalism under a communist regime, a kind of hybrid that provides slave labor and ultra cheap products to the Capitalist word in exchange for their debt off of which China can capitalize its own exploits, like economic colonialization of Africa and building empty mega-cities and modernization of their military-industrial complex. Between OPAC petrol dollars and Chinese Walmart dollars the United States, the so called last superpower is being sucked dry. We have little manufacturing left, and our infrastructure is made to run on petrol which is a dwindling reserve, and thus slated to become very expensive.

Now all this ideological warfare in both hot and cold wars throughout the Twentieth century and into the Twenty First century is based on the idea that human beings are made to be productive, and it is the harnessing of this productivity as labor which is the fundamental operation of the ideologies. The only question is who controls the means of production, and how is the human resources as a standing reserve allocated. And basically this means that liberal democracy and free market capitalism with light regulation by the state, is pitted against various forms of totalitarian regimes, whether it be Fascist, Soviet Communist, or Modern Chinese Communism which is rural as opposed to Maoist rural Chinese Communism. Totalitarianism is more efficient than Free Market and Democratically controlled Capitalism with the checks and balances that protect the population from monopolistic exploitation that is much easier under Totalitarian regimes. And what is so Ironic is that in our foreign policy we have shown that we prefer to deal with dictatorships than the uncertainty of democratic countries, and that is why we have toppled so many regimes. Thus we believe in freedom only for ourselves and the exploitation of others outside of our country around the world. And so in some ways we get what we deserve when we confront these large totalitarian states which we  have been at war with over the last century. We pay lip service to our values but when it comes to others we have a policy of promoting dictatorships so that we can maintain stability for our economic interests overseas. So our policy is to promote dictatorships everywhere but at home, and only begrudgingly support freedom movements when there is no other choice as in the Arab Spring movements and our response to them. So our use of slave labor overseas is merely the inverse of that of Modernizing Communist China or Fascist Germany which uses slave labor internally to hold down wages and gain competitive advantage over their trading partners who do not have slave labor pools.

So if we see the fundamental assumption of human productivity as a resource to be controlled as a standing reserve as the fundamental assumption of all the three major ideologies of the last century and going into this century, then we understand the inherent nihilism of that enframing (as Heidegger calls it).

It turns out that Greece and Rome two of the other original democracies had the ame problem and this eventually cause them to  sink into Dictatorships. Overreaching of empires built on democracy eventually leads to sovereignty being lost by the people. Bataille has a lot to say about Sovereignty and its relation to the Accursed Share. Deleuze and Guattari puts Sovereignty between the Savage and the Captialist phases of their view of history. In the Primitive stage there is only the flows across the territory, but in sovereignty all those flows are appropriated to the sovereign as his exclusive progressive. In capitalism all the flows are re=terratorialized and they break free of any organizing control. The various ideologies of the Twentieth Century have attempted to get Capitalism under control and reassert sovereignty in various ways. Only Liberal Democracy has avoided so far that pitfall. When Deleuze and Guattari say Capitalism I believe they mean all the forms of ideology that believe in production alone as the way of understanding human being within the enframing that considers labor as a resource.  They make the point that this unfettered re-territorialization leads to schizophrenia as a symptom of the degeneration of the society as it impacts the individual. Their psychology was developed specifically to be anti-Lacanian, by bringing in the social dimension, and thus was Anti-Oedipal.

Now here is the interesting thing returning to Zizek. Zizek and Badiou, both brands of communist, attack Derrida and Deleuze first because they are the previous generation of intellectuals that must be overcome, but also because Derrida explored Hyper Being (DifferAnce) and Deleuze explored Wild Being as defined by Merleau-Ponty in The Visible and Invisible. These are the higher meta-levels of Being that are a stairway to nowhere which Heidegger began to climb in Being and Time with the identification of Pure Being (present-at-hand) and Process Being (ready-to-hand). Heidegger himself abandoned Ontological Difference because he thought this was an infinite regress, and developed the idea of the dual of Being, i.e. Beyng instead. However, it turns out that this is not an infinite regress but instead is a finite stairway to nowhere like in the Winchester House. That is because at the core of Being is a phase transition to Existence at the fifth meta-level so there are only five meta-levels of Being. Now the question is why is Zizek and Badiou each in their own way attempting to roll back these realizations about the profound depths of Western Ontology especially since is has become clear that Plato in the Timaeus recognized at least the Third and perhaps even a fourth Kind of Being.

Now this is a complex question that would take us into the core of the philosophies of Zizek and Badiou. For the most part Zizek agrees with Badiou and sees that Badiou’s attack on Ontology by reducing it to Set Theory is deeper than his own reinterpretation of Lacan for the masses. Badiou is basically saying that Being is only Pure Being, i.e. purely present-at-hand if it is embodied in Math. But to this Badiou must add the Multiple prior to ultra-one, and the Event. Now the event, the emergent event, is the appearance of time as discontinuity. The Multiple on the other hand is as pure heterogeneity is a way to talk about space prior to its becoming a singular, i.e. prior to the a priori synthesis that appears with the ultra-one. So against Pure Being Badiou posits a kind of Process Being that is pure discontinuity in time, and pure heterogeneity in space. This is process Being imagined as a “meta-system” to the system of Set Theory. It is an attempt to think the inverse dual of the Set, which is of course a Mass. In this case a Spacetime Mass made up of instances purely separated in time and space like the complex plane.

Now for Zizek this becomes the image of the unconscious the meta-system in relation to the system of consciousness. If we follow Plotnitsky in In the Shadow of Hegel then we can see that Hegel was the ultimate systematic philosopher, which so disgusted both Kierkegaard and Nietzsche that they created Existentialism. So Zizek’s task is to think this meta-system via Lacan via Hegel and thus invent the anti-dialectic, i.e. the Parallax View by which the System of Hegel (and thus Language in Lacan’s case) remains broken open and unsystemiatized. Zizek produces the open field of the unconscious as meta-system and for him all of Culture is the Unconscious not just language. Democracy breaks open the Subject of Sovereignty in a similar way and allows multiple flows rather than a centrally organized flow of resources. Sovereignty captures the accursed share for itself, while democracy breaks up the accursed share into myriad rhizomatic flows that allows endless re-territorialization. This endless reterritorialization is dangerous for the ultra-ideology of human productive resources because it means that human potential can be siphoned off into myriad unproductive activities, meditation for example. In capitalism leisure is reserved for the 1% (many of which are CEOs, not just those who have inherited wealth) with a little begrudgingly given to the 99% as vacation or unemployment in the standing reserve of available labor.

Zizek and Badiou are dedicated to the suppression of Hyper and Wild Being and that is why they attack Derrida and Deleuze the explorers of these new meta-levels of Being beyond those identified by Heidegger in Being and Time. They are dedicated to the proposition that the original matrix between Process and Pure being is all there is, and thus they are limiting human potential to explore and make use of these higher levels of Being that continue to unfold prior to the transformation into Existence. Badiou in Set Theory embraces infinite regress of Cantor of infinities themselves while it was the possibility of infinite regress in kinds of Being that forced Heidegger to try to think the dual of Being, i.e. Beyng.

Hyper Being is expansion and Wild Being is contraction, and Zizek an Badiou are part of that contraction of our concept of the profound depths of Being, just as they are a return to the ideals of communism, after it had lost its luster in the era of Deleuze and Derrida after the time of Sartre and Merleau-Ponty where being a communist was de rigueur. There was a time when every self-respecting intellectual was communist, and then came McCarthy, and his blacklist, and then came the dumbing down of America by that means as the Media took up the cause of fighting communist intellectualism at home. Now we get candidates for President that can’t even talk, they show off their anti-intellectualism with pride. George W. Bush said he read a book at College.

So we can see Zizek and Badiou as enacting the contraction of Wild Being although they reject it in the form that Deleuze explored. And they pick up Lacan as the anti-Derrida, as the one who knows the Unconscious as language and its registers. I believe that the secret inspiration behind Lacan is Jung. Lacanian and Jungian psychoanalysis seem to me almost indistinguishable, except for the sophisticated semiotic and structuralist techniques employed by Lacan that Jung did not know about, so he settled for the inversion of Plato’s ideas into archetypes, and a secret conversation with Nietzsche the first self-declared psychologist of his age. Zizek and Badiou take different ways into the unconscious of the Mitsein as laid out by Lacan. Badiou seeks to find it behind Set theory and Logic. Zizek hopes to find it by reducing Lacan to Hegel and thus gaining a meta-systemic reading of Hegel via Lacan, and a systematic reading of Lacan via Hegel.

The actual answer to the question is that the royal alchemical marriage (ala Jung) between “Schizo-Capitalism” and “Representative Democracy” is Undead. It is the Undead that truly unnerves us as Zombies that we cannot tell from conscious human beings. Schizo-Capitalism, i.e. Global corporatism which combines Fascism, Communism, and Capitalism, the three ideologies that fought it out in the last century is the meta-system to sovereignty the system. After the USA became the last ideology standing through the following the approach of self-freedom and other-slavery as we see in Greece and Rome at the height of their empires rather than self-enslavement with dictatorships claiming sovereignty in totalitarian regimes. But by becoming the only imperial power globally, we realized that we were locked into an economic war in a downward spiral with OPEC countries with petrol dollars on the one hand and Chinese Fascism on the other with its Walmart dollars. This is another meta-systemic configuration that is the inverse of the ideological one, i.e. a purely economic one based on the logic of corporatist globalization. Thus our winning the Ideological war threw us into its inverse a falling into an economic black hole called our national debt and deficit spending, and the concomitant printing of money to sustain the economy when the bottom has already really fallen out. So we are kept in this undead state, not solvent, but not in a global depression either. Endless repetition of saving measures that do not work. We were alive when we had the fascists to actively battle, we started to go into a coma during the cold war, but now that the cold war is over, now with peace breaking out everywhere something had to be done, and the War on Terror was the answer. But that is just a distraction from the real economic war we are losing with OPEC and a Fascist China. The United States, once called the Big Island, because of its isolation from the rest of the world and self-absorption with its freedoms without responsibility is the Openness that is the dual of the closure of dictatorships around the world we support actively, which have been falling lately, due to the false hope of freedom in those off shore from the Big Island. Like the British that was almost bankrupt by the Falklands War, our expensive wars at a time of economic crisis and collapse is our hubris. Wars with Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran in succession is likely to do the same to us. And it is fairly clear that either the democracy or the empire has to go eventually. Democracy is just too inefficient. The Empire is too expensive to maintain. Worst case is that they both go. Most likely scenario is that we lose our empire, and that drives us into Dictatorship as we struggle to maintain it when it ceases to be viable. Other powers are in the wings ready to take center stage while we are pushed to the periphery. The only thing good about the War on Terror is that it has woken us up to the presence of the genuine Other, those who want us dead at all costs, and are willing to die to just make a small dent in our illusion of ultimate power and invisibleness. We call ourselves the Greatest country on earth, but that greatness does not extend to offering universal healthcare to our own citizens. Our greatness does not extend to extinguishing racism. Our greatness does not extend to solving the problem of homelessness amongst our youth. If our greatness does not include everyone in our country, then what is the likelihood that it is anything but Hubris. And Hubris as the Greeks and Roman history attests ends in tragedy for democratic hopes by submersion into Sovereignty. Empires always fall under their own weight through over extension. The world is likely to become a much more dangerous place because the globe can only be a meta-system, it can never be a system. And this is in part the lesson that Zizek wants to teach us. Our worst enemy is our own unconscious within the culture. It is our illusions of grandeur. A little humility would go a long way to solving these problems, but is unlikely to occur before the even deeper crisis to come. Flocks of Black Swans are on the horizon. Zizek gets no more joy than pointing out all the possibilities in this regard. And in a sense the marriage of the Undead of Capitalism and the NonDead of Democracy is just the tip of the iceberg of the myriad wicked problems that await us in the meta-system of globalization on a deteriorating planet. Green corporate slogans will not save us from ourselves even if we are acting as a body politic in politically correct ways.

See Capitalism: Does China Do Capitalism Better Than America?
Intelligence Squared Debate on this Question: http://www.npr.org/2012/03/19/148918977/does-china-do-capitalism-better-than-america

See Globalization: Is It Time To Clip America’s Global Wings?
Intelligence Squared Debate on this Question: http://www.npr.org/2011/04/11/135316625/is-it-time-to-clip-americas-global-wings

GREAT MINDS: SLAVOJ ŽIŽEK http://iq2.podbean.com/2011/07/01/great-minds-slavoj-zizek/

http://www.quora.com/Is-the-marriage-between-democracy-and-capitalism-really-dead-as-Zizek-said

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