It would be no overstatement to say that public discourse and debate, when and where they may still be found in today’s world, are marked, according to the subject, either by a formless and sterile consensus, or by a deep animosity.
The old Greek ideal of the creation of the City in words, by words, and through words has always been nothing but that – an ideal, even then, – especially then – amid the dissolution of the order of the City (the “polis” – from which our word “politics”, etc. are derived), the historical pinnacle of ancient Greek civilization.
Political divisions, however, are exacerbated in this Age of Information (note: not of Knowledge) by the facility of online ghettoization of political opinions, with the concomitant virtual verbal violence, and an alienation that strikes at the root of our common human sociality. The age of liberal construction and hegemony that fancied itself the bearer, however inorganically, of the Greek ideal, is over. The latter was not meant to apply to mass societies of disengaged individuals that industrial and social modernity have given us.
With the irruption of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, in a more ideological direction, we are witnessing the transition to a qualitatively different phase of the global contestation movements that emerged in the wake of the “Bush Wars”, the Colour Revolutions, and the financial crisis of 2008. Qualitatively different from, say, the Yellow Vest protests of the past few years (popular reaction against the fiscal collusion of the political and financial classes) and those of Hong Kong (the expression of popular demands for the maintenance of the liberal British system of rights in the face of Communist Chinese sovereignty).
The movements of this alternative phase, however, are characterized by a return to ideology and political opportunism. The ideological character of the movement means that it is endowed with a certain doctrine which is self-consistent, above the need for debate with those are not “allies” in society, and geared towards the concrete application of the doctrine. As such, it is a revolutionary movement, seeking to change social reality and to control it on a doctrinal basis (which they may call “scientific” to be make it more acceptable). It could be situated in the broad legacy of the New Left of yesteryear and the ongoing feminist movements inasmuch as it exceeds (if not transcends…) the labour movement and seeks to encompass the struggles of oppressed minorities – women, blacks, queers, etc. – other than labourers and workers.
Such movements denounce the political and cultural legacy of Western civilization as being the result of fundamentally and irremediably oppressive normativities, which cannot be scientifically justified, being based upon and perpetuating false consciousness. Knowledge and science, memory and culture, politics and the law all have to be purged of this false consciousness, whilst the underlying oppressive structure and motives of Western civilization must be exposed.
The modus operandi here is clear – to identify a legitimate cause of social concern, to exaggerate the stakes of such a concern to the point that it neutralizes and subsumes all the other concerns, to excite the fury of minorities (or any underprivileged group, irrespective of size), and, finally, to unleash this stoked-up fury on societies. Minorities, in and of themselves, are inert – they must be made active, “for-themselves”, in other words, they must be weaponized.
The minority thus becomes fully conscious of its state of oppression and seeks to emancipate itself from it – it has become a “minority-for-itself”, organized and active, the vanguard of the new revolution.
When this doctrinal framework is applied to the BLM movement, one thing transpires clearly: the antiracism it promotes itself perpetuates race consciousness, and thus becomes productive of other, antagonistic forms of racism, triggering latent/dormant anti-black/-minority activism in certain vocal corners.
Distrust in institutions and their dismissal as inherently “white” structures of oppression coupled with an (often, legitimate) impatience for substantial reforms help mobilize the minorities and rally support from the majority group. The process of the weaponization of minorities entails this coming to consciousness of the black community as a potentially revolutionary group.
This coming to consciousness, in turn, involves the tacit essentialization of what constitutes the physical and cultural characteristics of the blacks’ lives as distinguished from other groups. The process ends with the affirmation of “blackness” over and against the essentialized other, and most precisely, against a putative oppressive, colonialist, and imperialist “whiteness”, which allegedly continues to determine the whole structure of Western civilization.
This contributes to exacerbate not neutralize the fiction of “race”, and plays right into the polygenist denial of a common humanity. The reduction of politics to the intensification of the friend/enemy distinction here takes on a regressive racial turn in which the dialectical contest between the twin fictions of whiteness and blackness cannot be resolved or overcome.
Above all such radicalization and weaponization of the blacks does nothing to address the deep problems of social injustice that plague them specifically. Equality and integration are not the real aims of the ideologues, seeing that they want to suppress the very system, however slow and dysfunctional, which would enable that integration on the basis of an equal and shared citizenship.
The aim of this movement, then, is not to contribute to the creation of a shared citizenship on the basis of a common humanity. It is not interested in being one partner in dialogue with other equal partners in a truly free and much-needed debate for the refounding of our democracies. Furthermore, it is also not clear how they expect to rally “whites” to their cause if they ceaselessly point out and promote the pigmentary and cultural differences, and seek to capitalize on the guilt these “whites” are supposed to feel on account of the allegedly systemic-racist nature of their entire culture.
This is not to deny that racism exists – but that it cannot and ought not be fought and opposed by the mirror-image of itself, that this renovated convergence of historical materialism (i.e., whatever form of Marxism endorsed by the Black Lives Matter movement) and antiracism is creating.
Past and present injustices, based on skin-colour, social class, sex, etc., the fragmentation of society and the alienation produced by mass societies, together with the chronic inability of liberal democratic states to create foci of unity are real problems which demand to be addressed pressingly. We must recognize that thanks to those past injustices, people are precluded, in one way or another, from ordering their lives in a way consonant with the demands of human dignity, personal freedom, and the common good. We must recognize that society must take a degree of responsibility in the rearing and flourishing of its less fortunate members.
But we must also recognize that the solution is not to be found with outspokenly revolutionary movements that refuse dialogue, that the success of such movements is usually short-lived and of limited use for the general improvement of humankind, and that in their bid for the control of the resources of society, the price to be paid by the common folk is unfailingly high.
The history of the 20th century is that of the failure of nationalist, statist, and socialist ideology (Nazi, Fascist, Marxist-Leninism, etc.) as a means of achieving a modicum of dignity, freedom, and the common good. We are not living at the “end of history”, we are not in the preparatory phases of the Marxist eschatology of a classless and stateless society. To use the unachieved integration of underprivileged social groups as a means of instigating revolutions is almost the guaranty that the integration in question will end up being subsumed under “wider” concerns, before being cast into oblivion.
What, then, is to be done? How do we remedy the present effects of past injustices? How do we further purify our institutions of discrimination and inequalities? In spite of the lofty ideals of liberty and equality often associated with democracy, we must recognize, in all modesty, that politics is in and of itself powerless to solve the problems of humankind. If politics is constitutively limited as a means of human perfection, what then remains?
I would suggest that citizens must each find the strength to look into their own consciences and acknowledge the hierarchy of duties that occurs to them therein. Public life cannot be honestly conceived outside of the concrete demands of civic duty, as much as domestic and private life cannot be honestly conceived outside the concrete demands of domestic duty. This presupposes that the citizen consciously adopts a spiritual (not necessarily in the “religious” sense) and social hygiene that helps in the fostering of domestic and civic virtues. For us to be a true society of equals, we must be united not only by the lower and more material aspects of our beings, but also by that truly sublime and rational part of our common nature which knows no distinction of colour.
This is perhaps asking too much of the individual in this day and age. By virtue of the limits of politics, we have to content ourselves with “second-best regimes”, and to make them work within the horizon of concrete and achievable goals.