Reading Benjamin for the umpteenth time…
Fascism attempts to organize the newly created proletarian masses without affecting the property structure which the masses strive to eliminate. Fascism sees its salvation in giving these masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves. The masses have a right to change property relations; Fascism seeks to give them an expression while preserving property. The logical result of Fascism is the introduction of aesthetics into political life.
If that’s the case, we’ve been fascist since at least World War 2… Something I’ve suspected for a while, really. I wonder if Marcuse had any rejoinder to this.
All efforts to render politics aesthetic culminate in one thing: war.
Ah, yes. The kicker.
Epilogue from Mussolini:
We have created our myth. The myth is a faith, a passion. It is not necessary for it to be a reality. It is a reality in the sense that it is a stimulus, a hope, is faith, is courage. Our myth is the nation, our myth is the greatness of the nation! For us the nation is not just territory, but something spiritual. A nation is great when it translates into reality the force of the spirit.
Was reading the exact same passage last night. The section on distraction is interesting as well:
“In the decline of middle-class society, contemplation became a school of asocial behavior; it was countered by distraction as a variant of social conduct.”
Nice one. I always find something new in this essay.
Siegfried Kracauer, who is new to me, was writing about distraction in a similar way at this time. Need to scrounge up some more of his stuff.
Depressing – I thought someone like you, who’s clearly invested a lot of time poring over and defending the very aesthetic and very political self-expressions of the proletarian masses, would be on the other side of this debate. So according to you siding with Heidegger and Arendt and thinking art and speech can actually change things makes me a fascist?
It would be facile to claim that art can’t “change things.” But there’s a difference between politicizing art and aestheticizing politics. Interpreting art in terms of power struggles is the former; reducing politics to feelings, poses, attitudes, lifestyles, spectacles — this is the danger.
I think there’s at least an equal danger in eliminating those things from politics. (Save perhaps the spectactle, though even that has its vaguely situationist place.)
Maybe it’s because I’ve come at this from a vaguely feminist perspective rather than a marxist one, but economic equality and “eliminating the property structure” is never going to be enough nor is it an end in itself. Once you go down the Frankfurt route of seeing the “masses” (abhorrent concept in itself) as lacking agency, the whole point of politics in the first place is lost! It’s precisely by linking politics to the self very closely (and its poses, lifestyles, etc.) that people can be properly free from conformist tyrannies.
My understanding of “the point of politics” is the abolition of exploitation, which take many forms including economic inequality, racism, imperial war, and gender discrimination. I fail to see how lifestyle-ism, actively promoted by consumer capitalism, addresses this. I think subcultures are interesting, but I don’t see them as inherently politically progressive; indeed, many are reactionary, many more simply support the status quo. Though I would agree that there has to be an affective/libidinal dimension to political engagement — people have to WANT a reason to do something, i.e. it has to be SEXY in some way.
I don’t really have any sort of concrete program — part of posting these things on my blog is a way of working through ideas that seem valuable, by writing and discussing. And for that I appreciate your thoughts.
[…] reader and writer. It was praxis, not merely aestheticization of politics (Benjamin would have even stronger words for such a tendency in a later essay). In Benjamin’s estimation, Kastner’s stuff, for […]