After Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s referendum victory, the Western media were full of critical analyses: The century of the Kemalist endeavor to secularize Turkey is over; the Turkish voters were offered not so much a democratic choice as a referendum to limit democracy. However, many reactions contained a subtle ambiguity recalling the ambivalence of Donald Trump’s politics towards Israel: While he stated that the United States should recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, some of his supporters are openly anti-Semitic. But is this really an inconsistent stance? A cartoon once published in a Viennese newspaper depicted two Nazi-looking Austrians, one of them holding a newspaper and commenting indignantly, “Here you can see again how a totally justified Anti-semitism is being misused for a cheap critique of Israel!”
This reversal of the standard argument against critics of the policies of the State of Israel resembles the thinking of Christian fundamentalists who support Israeli policies and reject critiques of those policies as leftist. And remember Anders Breivik, the Norwegian anti-immigrant mass murderer, who was both anti-Semitic and pro-Israel, since he saw in the state of Israel the first line of defense against Muslim expansionism. Mr. Breivik thus embodies the ultimate paradox of the Zionist anti-Semite. Traces of this lead back to Reinhardt Heydrich, the mastermind of the Holocaust, who praised the Zionists in 1935 for their “strictly racial concept.”
Today there is a new version of this Zionist anti-Semitism: Islamophobic respect for Islam. The same politicians – from Mr. Trump to Vladimir Putin – who warn of the danger of Islamization of the Christian West, respectfully congratulated Mr. Erdogan on his victory. Apparently, an authoritarian regime is okay for Turkey but not for us. Today, the cartoon might read, “A totally justified Islamophobia is being misused for a cheap critique of Turkey!”
This weird logic is a reaction, a false cure, to the great malady of contemporary society, Huntington’s disease. St. Vitus’ dance, as it used to be called, can initially appear as a general restlessness, with minor, unintentional movements and a lack of coordination. Doesn’t the rise of brutal populism look quite similar? It begins with apparently random violent excesses against immigrants, uncoordinated outbursts that express a general unease and restlessness apropos “foreign intruders.” But it gradually grows, even explodes, into a well-coordinated and ideologically grounded movement. What another Huntington – Samuel – called “the clash of civilizations.” What is usually referred to under this term is effectively the Huntington’s disease of today’s global capitalism.
There will be no contradiction in imposing in our own countries politically correct feminism and simultaneously rejecting critique of the dark side of Islam as neocolonialist arrogance.
According to Mr. Huntington, after the end of the Cold War, the “iron curtain of ideology” was replaced by the “velvet curtain of culture.” His dark vision of clashing civilizations may appear the very opposite of Francis Fukuyama’s bright prospect of the end of history in the guise of a worldwide liberal democracy. What could differ more from Mr. Fukuyama’s notion that the final formula for the best possible social order is to be found in capitalist liberal democracy, than a clash of civilizations that is becoming the main political struggle of the 21st century?
In fact, the clash of civilizations is politics at the “end of history.” The ethnic-religious conflicts are the form of struggle that fits global capitalism. In the age of “post-politics” when politics proper is replaced with expert social administration, the only remaining legitimate sources of conflict are cultural (ethnic, religious) tensions. The rise of “irrational” violence thus corresponds to the de-politicization of our societies.
If we accept this thesis of the clash of civilizations, the only alternative to it remains the peaceful coexistence of civilizations, or of “ways of life,” a more popular term today. Forced marriages and homophobia are acceptable as long as they are limited to another country that is otherwise fully integrated into the world market.
The new world order would thus no longer be the Fukuyamaist global liberal democracy but one of the peaceful coexistence of different political-theological ways of life against the background of the smooth-functioning of global capitalism. The obscenity of this process is that it can present itself as progress in the anti-colonial struggle: The liberal West will no longer be allowed to impose standards on others, all ways of life will be treated as equal. No wonder Robert Mugabe displayed sympathy for Mr. Trump’s slogan “America First” – “America First” for you, “Zimbabwe First” for me “India First” or ‘North Korea First” for them.
This is how the British Empire, the first global capitalist empire, functioned. Each ethnic-religious community was allowed to pursue its own way of life; Hindus in India were free to burn widows, and so on. Local “customs” were either criticized as barbaric or praised for their pre-modern wisdom, but tolerated since what mattered is that they were economically part of the Empire.
In this new world order, universality will be more and more reduced to tolerance – tolerance of different ways of life. Following the formula of Zionist anti-Semitism, there will be no contradiction in imposing in our own countries the strictest politically correct feminism and simultaneously rejecting a critique of the dark side of Islam as neocolonialist arrogance.
To understand how our lives are regulated today we must focus on the shadowy relationships between the private corporations that control our common property and the secret agencies of the state.
There will be less and less room for figures like Julian Assange who, in spite of his problematic gestures, remains today’s most powerful symbol of what Kant called “the public use of reason,” a space for public knowledge and debate outside state control. America’s renewed efforts to have Julian Assange arrested show what lies ahead. Wikileaks will be proclaimed a terrorist organization, and instead of genuine advocates of public space like Mr. Assange, figures that exemplify the privatization of our commons will set the tone. Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckenberg – the billionaires with a “social conscience.” They stand for global capital at its most seductive and “progressive” – in short, at its most dangerous.
Mr. Musk likes to warn about the threats the new technologies pose to human dignity and freedom – which doesn’t prevent him from investing in a company called Neuralink that seeks to develop a brain-computer interface so that humans can keep pace with advancements in artificial intelligence. Every technological innovation is always first presented in terms of its humanitarian benefits in order to blind us to its more ominous implications and consequences. Can we even imagine what new forms of control this so-called “neural lace” will make possible? This is why it is absolutely imperative to keep it out of the control of private capital and state power, i.e., to render it totally accessible to public debate.
Mr. Assange was right in his strangely ignored, crucial book on Google: In order to understand how our lives are regulated today and how we experience this regulation as freedom, we must focus on the shadowy relationships between the private corporations that control our common property and the secret agencies of the state.
Today’s global capitalism can no longer offer a positive vision of emancipated humanity, not even as an ideological dream. Fukuyamaist liberal-democratic universalism failed because of its own limitations and inconsistencies, and populism is the symptom of this failure, its Huntington’s disease. But the solution is not populist nationalism, on either the right or the left. The only solution is a new universalism. In “What Happened in the Twentieth Century?” Peter Sloterdijk provides an outline of what is to be done encapsulated in the titles of two essays, the “Anthropocene” and “From the Domestication of Man to the Civilizing of Cultures.”
The Anthropocene designates a new epoch in the life of our planet in which we humans can no longer rely on the Earth as a reservoir ready to absorb the consequences of our productive activity, or ignore the collateral damage it causes. The Earth proves to be an(other) finite object that we can inadvertently destroy, or so transform that it becomes uninhabitable. At the very moment we have become powerful enough to affect the most basic conditions of our life, we have to accept that we are just another animal species on a small planet. A new way to relate to our environment is necessary – no longer that of heroic worker expressing creative human potential and drawing from inexhaustible resources, but of a much more modest agent collaborating with the environment in order to permanently negotiate a tolerable level of safety and stability.
The EU offers the only model of a transnational organization with the authority to guarantee minimum ecological and social welfare standards.
To establish this, a radical political-economic change is necessary, something that Mr. Sloterdijk calls “the domestication of the wild animal culture.” Until now, each culture disciplined and educated its own members and guaranteed civic peace among them through state power. But the relationship between different cultures and states has been permanently under the shadow of potential war, with each period of peace nothing more than a temporary armistice. As Hegel conceptualized it, the entire ethic of a state culminates in the highest act of heroism, the readiness to sacrifice one’s life for one’s nation-state. The enmity between states serves as the foundation of ethical life within a state. Is today’s North Korea, with it ruthless pursuit of nuclear weapons and rockets, not the ultimate example for this logic of the unconditional sovereignty of the nation-state?
But the moment we accept that we live on a Spaceship Earth, we are faced with the urgent task of civilizing civilizations themselves, of imposing universal solidarity and cooperation among all human communities, a task rendered all the more difficult by the ongoing rise of sectarian religious and ethnic “heroic” violence.
The measures Mr. Sloterdijk proposes as necessary for the survival of humanity – the overcoming of capitalist expansionism, international cooperation with possible submission to an executive power that is ready to violate state sovereignty – are these not all measures destined to protect our natural and cultural commons? If they do not point towards some kind of reinvented Communism, if they do not imply a Communist horizon, the term “Communism” has no meaning at all.
This is why the idea of a European Union is worth fighting for, in spite of the misery of its actual existence. In today’s globalized capitalist world, it offers the only model of a trans-national organization with the authority to limit national sovereignty and guarantee minimum ecological and social welfare standards. Something that directly descends from the best traditions of European Enlightenment survives in it. Our duty as Europeans is not to humiliate ourselves as the ultimate culprits of colonialist exploitation but to fight for this part of our legacy that is important for the survival of humanity.
Europe is more and more isolated in the new global world, dismissed as an old, exhausted, irrelevant continent playing only a secondary role in today’s geopolitical conflicts. As French philosopher Bruno Latour recently put it: “Europe is indeed alone; but Europe alone can save us.”
This article first appeared in Die Zeit. To contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org