THEORY RISING 3
With increasing velocity and unpredictable instability, the pattern of twenty-first century politics traces a strange trajectory that mixes technological shards from a future that probably will never be realized with emotional appeals to a past that has still not lost its hold on the contemporary scene. Politically, the mood of the times seems to veer between tangible signs of exhaustion in the ruling centers of power and virulent forms of predatory behavior that translate resentment and despair into aggression against the weak, the vulnerable and the powerless. Could it be that we are living in an emerging epoch of dead power in which all the ruling signs implode in an endless drift, sometimes taking the immanent form of spasms of nativism and, at other points, finding expression in the transcendent projects of globalizing neo-liberalism. Almost three decades after the eclipse of Communism as a hegemonic ideology and fifteen years after the still unexamined events of 9/11, nowhere is the presence of dead power as the governing motivation clearer than in the present US presidential election with its binary choice between fully exhausted neo-liberalism on the one hand and right-wing populism with a fascist streak on the other. As a way of opening up discussion of the deeper patterns present in politics today, we are republishing two related theories concerning the death of politics and with it the death of the social: Michael Weinstein’s “The Dark Night of the Liberal Spirit and the Dawn of the Savage,” and Arthur Kroker’s “The Disembodied Eye: Ideology and Power in the Age of Dead Power.” Here, Weinstein’s analysis of politics in the closing days of the twentieth-century resonates powerfully as a chilling diagnosis of contemporary events. For Weinstein, when liberalism was finally free to express itself economically in the ideology of neo-liberalism, it quickly reduced itself to “liberalism with a fascist streak,” alternating between the street politics of anger, anxiety and insecurity and the moral aridity of power elites, from the political leadership of the deep state to predatory expressions of virtual capitalism. For Kroker, what’s at stake in the present moment is a society trapped in the end-games of nihilism—the singularity of the death-drive the codes of which were written long ago in the theological texts of Augustine, painted in the art of Giorgio de Chirico, M.C. Escher and Max Ernst, and theorized anew in the visionary thought of Jean Baudrillard and Roland Barthes.
Arthur and Marilouise Kroker, Editors