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Exorcism in Politics or the Conspiracy of Imbeciles

I often think of this essay by Baudrillard, and always have a hard time finding it. It’s from Screened Out, first published by Verso in 2002, translated by Chris Turner. The book itself was first published as Ecran total, by Editions Galilee, in 2000.

Two situations, each equally critical and irresolvable: the worthlessness of contemporary art; political impotence in the face of Le Pen. There is a trade-off between the two and a resolution by transfusion: powerlessness to mount any political opposition to Le Pen is displaced on to the terrain of culture and the cultural Holy Alliance. So, when it comes to questioning contemporary art, this can be the product only of reactionary and irrational - if not, indeed, fascistic - thinking.

How can one counter this respectful conspiracy of imbeciles? Sadly, nothing can correct this mechanism of intellectual perversion, since it is inspired by bad conscience and the impotence of our ‘democratic’ elites to resolve both the impasse of art and the political impasse of the struggle against the Front National. The easiest solution is to merge the two problems in the same moralizing vituperation. The real question then becomes: can one not ‘open up’ the issue in some way, suggest something unusual, irreverent, unconventional or paradoxical without automatically being seen as coming from the extreme Right (which is, it must be said, a homage paid to the extreme Right)? Why has everything moral, conventional and conformist - things which were traditionally on the Right — now gone over to the Left?

A painful revision. Whereas the Right embodied moral values and the Left, by contrast, a certain contradictory historical and political resolve, the Left today, stripped of all political energy, has become a pure court of morality — the embodiment of universal values, the champion of the reign of Virtue and upholder of the antiquated values of the Good and the True — a court before which everyone is answerable but itself. The political illusion of the Left, deep-frozen for twenty years spent in opposition, has turned out, on the Left’s gaining power, to be pregnant not with the meaning of history, but with a morality of history. With a morality of Truth, Right and good conscience — the degree zero of politics and even, we may safely say, the lowest point of the genealogy of morals. This moralization of values in which the historical truth of a particular event, the aesthetic quality of a work of art or the scientific pertinence of a particular hypothesis can be judged only in moral terms, is the historical defeat of the Left (and of thought). Even reality, the reality principle, is an article of faith. Question the reality of a war and you’ll be condemned for betraying the moral law.

With the Left as lacking in political vitality as the Right, where has politics moved to? The answer is simple: on to the ground of the extreme Right. As Bruno Latour put it very well in Le Monde, the only person talking politics in France today is Le Pen. All the others are talking morality or civics; they sound like schoolteachers or instructors, managers or programmers. Le Pen, committed to evil and immorality, snaffles all the political stakes, scoops up all that has been cast aside or positively repressed by the politics of Good and Enlightenment. The more the moral coalition hardens against him - a mark of political impotence - the more political capital he makes out of immorality, out of being the only one on the side of evil. When, in the past, the Right went over to defending moral values and the established order, the Left did not hesitate to defy those same moral values in the name of political ones. It is itself today the victim of such a slide, of such a dereliction: with the Left overtaken by moralism, the repressed political energy necessarily crystallizes else- where - in the enemy camp. And so the Left, by embodying the reign ofVirtue, which is also the reign of the greatest hypocrisy, can only fuel Vice.

If Le Pen didn’t exist, he’d have to be invented. It is he who delivers us from a whole evil side of ourselves, from the quintessence of all that is worst in us. For this we should rightly anathematize him. But if he disappeared, woe betide us, exposed to all our racist, sexist and nationalist viruses (we all have them) or, quite simply, to the murderous negativity of social being. In this respect he is the mirror of the political class, who use him to exorcize their own evils, just as we use them to exorcize all the corruption inherent in the operation of society. The same corrupting function, the same cathartic function. The desire to root all this out, the desire to purify society and moralize public life, to liquidate all that represents evil, shows a total misconception of the mechanisms of evil, and thus of the very form of the political.

The anti-Le Pen forces, employing tactics of unilateral condemnation and showing no appreciation of this reversibility of evil, have entirely abandoned its use to Le Pen himself. As a result he is, by his very exclusion, in an impregnable position. The political class, by stigmatizing him in the name of Virtue, puts him in the most comfortable of situations, where all he has to do is sweep up the symbolic charge of ambivalence, of rejection of evil and hypocrisy which his righteous adversaries obligingly produce for him — almost as if they were in his pay. He draws his energy from his enemies themselves, who rush to turn his own mistakes to his advantage. They have not understood that good is never the product of rooting out evil, which always exacts a glorious revenge, but of subtly treating evil with evil.

Le Pen is, then, the embodiment of stupidity and worthlessness, admittedly, but of the stupidity and worthlessness of the others, of those who, in denouncing him, denounce their own impotence and stupidity, simultaneously revealing the absurdity of fighting him head on without any understanding of this diabolical game of musical chairs - thus, in a terrifying lack of lucidity, feeding up their own phantoms, their own negative doubles.

What governs this perverse effect by which the Left is stuck in denunciation, while Le Pen retains an exclusive hold on enunciation — with the one profiting fully from his crime and the other harvesting all the negative effects of recrimination, the one delighting in evil and the other becoming entangled in victimhood? The answer is a simple truth: by confining Le Pen to a ghetto, the democratic Left has walled itself up; it points to itself as the discriminatory power and exiles itself in its obsession. It automatically cedes the other party’s claim of a denial of justice. And Le Pen does not shy from appealing to Republican legality for his own advantage. Above all, however, he cloaks himself in the illegal, imaginary, but very profound prestige of the persecuted — so well, indeed, that he can enjoy the benefits both of legality and illegality. From this ostracism he derives a freedom of language and a boldness of judgement which the Left denies itself.

An example of the magical thinking which currently does service for political thought: Le Pen is criticized for rejecting and excluding immigrants, but this is as nothing compared with the process of social exclusion which is going forward at all levels of society (exclusion itself, together with the ‘social fracture’, found itself excluded by the decree dissolving the National Assembly). And this complex, inextricable process of collective responsibility is one we are all accessories to, and victims of. It is, therefore, typically magical thinking to seek to ward off this virus which is spreading everywhere as an effect of our social and technical ‘progress’; to exorcize this curse of exclusion and our impotence in the face of it by vesting it in one execrable man, institution or group, whoever or whatever they may be; to treat it as a canker that could simply be surgically removed, when the secondary infections have already spread to all parts. The Front National is merely following the paths beaten by these secondaries — paths beaten with all the more virulence for the fact that we believe we have eliminated the tumour, and so, as a result, the germs spread into the whole organism. Not to mention that this magical projection where the Front National is concerned does to it precisely what it does to immigrants. We must beware of this ruse of contamination in which, by sheer transparence of evil, the positive changes into a negative virus, and the demand for liberty into ‘democratic despotism’. As ever, we see here that reversibility, that subtle coiling and winding, of evil which catches rational intelligence off its guard (when the whole of modern pathology teaches us so much about this at the level of the physical body, we pay no heed to it where the social body is concerned).

To remain with politics, we must avoid ideology and see things in terms of social physics. Our democratic society is the stasis and Le Pen the metastasis. Society as a whole is dying of inertia and immunodeficiency. Le Pen is the visible transcription of this viral state, its spectacular projection. Things here are as they are in dreams: he is the burlesque, hallucinatory figuration of this latent state, of this silent inertia made up in equal measure of enforced integration and systematic exclusion. Since, in this society, the hope of reducing social inequality has (almost) definitively dis- appeared, we should not be surprised to see the resentment shifted on to race inequality. The bankruptcy of the social project is responsible for the successful re- emergence of race (and of all the other forms of fatal strategies). In this sense, Le Pen is the only ‘unofficial’ analyser of this society. The fact that the analysis is on the extreme Right is merely a sad consequence of the fact that there is no such analyst on the Left or the far Left. And certainly none is to be found among the judges or the intellectuals. Only immigrants, at the opposite extreme, might also be in a position to analyse what is going on, but a certain form of ‘right thinking’ has largely taken them over. Le Pen is the only one radically to minimize the Right—Left distinction — admittedly, because it is of little importance to him, but the uncompromising critique of that distinction made since the 1960s and in 1968 has unfortunately disappeared from political life. He benefits, then, from a defacto situation the political class refuses to face up to (indeed, they do all they can to mask it with elections), but one day the extreme consequences of that situation will have to be drawn. If, one day, political imagination, political will and resolve have some opportunity to bounce back, they will do so only on the basis oft he radical abolition of this fossilized distinction which has, over the decades, revealed itself to be an empty sham, and which only holds up now by corrupt collusion. It is a distinction which has vanished in reality, but which, by some incurable revisionism, is constantly being revived, thereby making Le Pen the begetter of the only new political scene. It is as though everyone were involved in scuppering what remains of democracy, doubtless to give the retrospective illusion that it once existed. Many things today have no other existence than this staging of their disappearance. Proving that they existed by a premature act of mourning, Le Pen here being the agent of that work of mourning and the man carrying out the ‘contract’.

Is there some chance of drawing the consequences of this extreme (but original) situation other than through the hallucinatory medium ofLe Pen — that is to say, other than by a magical conjuration which saps all energies? How are we to avoid succumbing to this viral excrescence of our own demons, other than by going back, beyond political moralism and democratic revisionism, to that unofficial analysis which Le Pen and the Front National have in a sense snatched from us?

7 May 1997