The Triumph of Abuse Value


It is still not out of season to write obituaries. Much as we might want to be rid of Baudrillard, the need to declare the "death of..." still persists because the simulations of dead powers continue to plague us, even as actual genocides spread and right-wing hegemony takes over.

We declare and memorialize the deaths of our time so that we can pass beyond them to enter the scene of the dominant neo-fascist ideology.

  1. The death of old liberalism. This happened definitively and finally in 1968 with the defeat of Hubert Horatio Humphrey. You can't call Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, or Clinton welfare liberals. LBJ with his "guns 'n' butter" policy was the last old liberal. Since then liberal corporatism, which weights popular interests mediated through mass organizations, most notably labor unions, more favorably than plutocratic interests, has been a dead letter. Its "legislative achievements" continued to operate with continually less vigor until now, with the victory of technotopian conservative corporatism (Gingrichism), they are revealed to be time-bound measures rather than the eternal safety net that everyone was sure they were. The welfare state, sold as a practical tool, is today revealed to be a utopia rather than the end of history. Its political impulse expired 25 years ago, but its after-image has only now burned out.
  2. The death of the old left. This happened in 1989 with the fall of Communist power in Europe. Marxism was so discredited by the abject political failure of Communism, which cleared the way for pan-capitalism, that it has become a politically neutered philosophical sociology to be plundered for understanding how capitalism works: as long as capitalism is around there will be a place for a Marxian analysis purged of the state socialist utopia (another supposedly practical measure), the left corporatism that suppresses capitalist interests rather than containing them. Pause. The definitive deaths of old liberalism and the old left are not recent. The above items simply re-mark (on) them. They are familiar. Two more recent deaths, related to the earlier ones, open the path of technotopian conservative corporatism.
  3. The death of neo-liberalism. Neo-liberalism, the successor of welfare liberalism was a moderate corporatism (all purportedly law-abiding organized interest groups are welcome), a compromise formation, a sham national-unity coalition: a liberalism in captivity to corporate capital, that is, a simulacrum of liberalism combined with a Jacobin communitarian national-service, industrial-policy element; a liberal fascism that sometimes promises something to the subaltern groups but never delivers. The best game in town for the subalterns! That is the reason for the low turnout for the Democrats in 1994; the subalterns didn't want to play.

    Who needs neo-liberals? The answer turns out to be only those sectors of corporate capital that are opposed to right-wing takeovers and are happy to have a weakened President in their pocket to take out and wind up when they want things like a Mexican peso bailout.

    Neo-liberalism is dead, which means at long last that liberalism is dead. Neo-liberalism already was not liberal - it was communitarianism in camouflage, a moderate nationalism embarrassed to proclaim its patriotism, and thus taking refuge in abstract signifiers of republican virtue and citizenship. But that was not all. Neo-liberalism was also the technotopia of the "information highway" hype, trade war with China over CDs; New Age revivalism, prayer meetings of the New Class (Dead Power Elite), Renaissance Weekends. It slowly morphed itself into the double of its competitor: technotopian conservative corporatism. It represented the virtual class, but so does its now victorious opposition. It represented arts administrators, public corporations, "non-profits." The opposition does not. Big deal.

    Neo-liberalism is a stinking corpse. Its defenders (eg., the New Republic crowd) are still around on the opinion pages in search of some constituency, making faintly more "liberal" noises than they used to.

  4. The death of the new-left backlash. The new left died as decisively as the old liberalism, which it helped kill, in 1968. Prague, Mexico City, Paris, Chicago were the sites of state repression of the radical-democratic movements with their confident humanism and their slogans of "power to the people" and "local control to the local community." Radical democracy, the glue that held together the various "liberation" movements, dissolved, fragmenting those movements from within and separating them from each other. After 1968 Marxism failed to become a replacement for radical democracy as a binding agent. The later development of a compromise vocabulary, called "PC" by its detractors and left nameless by those who enunciated it, also failed to unify.

    With the dissolve of radical democracy the inheritors of the liberation movements adopted a stance of defensive particularism toward the world and suffered continual fragmentation from within, generating a ceaseless production of micro-ideologies. They hid out and tried to establish bases and safe havens in the old-liberal bureaucracies. They were the new left's detritus in a mode of backlash.

    With the fall of neo-liberalism the last protective shield for the new-left backlash was removed and the inheritors of liberation were transformed into the victim groups of the right wing, left only with abuse value for their tormentors. Liberation was dead-on-arrival in 1968. Its backlash, Difference, died in 1994.

    The "new left" survives today in academic post Marxism. Ernesto Laclau, a self-proclaimed partisan of the "new left" and of "radical democracy," admitted that the right rather than radical democracy might be the mobilizer of a dislocated "advanced" capitalist society that produces fragmented identities as its most conspicuous product. On the other side of anti-humanism, Laclau proposes a movement for bringing humanity into being for the first time! The Port Huronists had the confidence that they represented humanity's deepest yearnings. Laclau has a yearning for humanity.

Dominant Ideology: Gingrichism

Postmodernism was a quarter century of mourning for the death of the (new) left. As the grieving process went on under the camouflage of "play" and ~jouissance,~ ideological space was colonized by the right wing. Never coherent, the right found a political formula that contained contradictions, but limited them sufficiently to mobilize electorates: technotopian conservative corporatism.

The first appearance of technotopian conservative corporatism was the Reagan administration with its "Star Wars" myth and its crackdown on subaltern groups. Conservative corporatism means favoring the complex organizations of corporate capital and their allies at the expense of vast regions of the state apparatus and the non-capitalist organized interests to which that apparatus caters. It becomes technotopian when the operations of corporate power are both masked and appropriated by a technotopian vision.

Take away government and deliver the population to the mercies of corporate capital in the name of a decentralized opportunity society brought into being by the "information revolution" (the Internet) (Tofflerian third-waveism): that is Gingrichism, the second and over-ideologized version of technotopian conservative corporatism. Gingrichism is the latest phase of the virtualization process: it is the pan-capitalist road to virtualization, the way in which virtualization is appropriated by capitalism rather than shared with the entire state apparatus and dependent organizations as was the formula of the neo-liberal technotopia (Goreism) of the "information superhighway."

In pure Tofflerism all second-wave bureaucracies will wither away as the techniques of the information revolution render them obsolete, and flexible and decentralized networks take their place, miming the rhizomatic technostructure. In Gingrichism decentering is left to happen by itself for capitalist bureaucracies, whereas dislocation (Laclau) is forced to happen for non-capitalist interests by destroying the regions of the state apparatus that serve them. Gingrichism is the viciously naive cynical ploy of the hybrid monster, Newt Gingrich, who combines third-wave populist boosterism with service to corporate capitalism. He is the great mediating signifier of the two components of the virtual class: the technotopians and the information industry. Right-wing hegemony guarantees that pan-capitalism is the beneficiary and agent of virtualization, the production of cyber-space.

The Triumph of Abuse Value

The pan-capitalist takeover of the virtualization process is sold to electorates through the politics of greed, resentment, and hatred. There will be sacrificial victims of the "middle-class tax cuts" that buy off opposition to the pan-capitalist power grab. First of all, the greatest threats of all are targeted: unmarried teen-age mothers. They are the ones who produce the gang members who deal the drugs that pollute the social body. No safety net for them. And for their children, orphanages that will never be, because they will be too expensive to build. No safety net; "tough love" instead. It is a favor to the person deprived of "welfare" to remove them from dependency. As Rep. Clay Shaw of Florida says, Republican welfare reform "sends a powerful signal that the government cannot and will not solve everyone's problems."

Under these smarmy rationalizations is sadistic glee in trampling the weak. The unmarried teen-age mother of the black underclass has enormous abuse value. All of the male and Christian-right backlash against the new-left backlash can now be exploited to satisfy the will to punish. Robert Greenstein, a policy analyst, noted that the Republican welfare-reform bill would cut off funds for low-income families with children who have cerebral palsy: "I wonder why they're doing something like that. Are they cutting to help finance cuts in the capital gains tax?" [Carol Jouzaitas, "House GOP seeks major welfare cuts," Chicago Tribune, 2/10/95, Sec. 1, p. 14.] That's the way technotopian conservative corporatism works. And don't forget the abuse value.

Michael A. Weinstein is Professor of Political Science at Purdue University. He has published nineteen books, ranging from cultural theory to metaphysics. With Arthur Kroker he co-authored Data Trash: The Theory of the Virtual Class.