Monday, November 12, 2007

"The central front on the war on terror"

Don't we all sense that characterizations of the Bush administration's disgusting rhetoric as "fascist" or "dictatorial"--see Frank Rich's column yesterday if you want one of the more thoroughly executed instances of this--don't really get at the heart of the matter, and end up just sounding paranoid, ineffectual. Why is this the case?
It is because this term as it is used refers to fascism when it is at its height, its fullest manifestation. But wasn't Germany, for example, just as fascist in the years before the National Socialists came to power? That is, in its willingness ("will" is precisely the fascist way to describe it, as we will see) to sacrifice values, the values of the Heimat, etc. it was just as fascist as when it actually took them away. (One should revisit a review by Benjamin of a volume of Jünger, where he says precisely this--I think its in the second volume of the selected writings... Benjamin also sensed this about Heidegger, I think) The impotent will, the longing for a will that characterized Germany after the First World War--that is what fascism is, and this longing is what really pervades the disgusting "war on terror." The contradictions of Bush are not expressions of the double-speak of a Hitler or a Stalin--they are contradictory because they are expressions of a power that is really only the impotent longing for adefinite enemy, for a front on which to face them. Isn't the unbelievablely naive optimism of this administration that they will meet this enemy precisely what cannot be accounted for by every critic of this administration? Who has not explained it away as mere doublespeak in some form? We must ask ourselves, doesn't this impotent optimism resemble someone like Jünger's after the war (or Heidegger's, always) in his longing for another field of battle, for another definite enemy, for another front? (For Heidegger, we should say, another Auseinandersetzung.) That is, isn't this optimism genuinely expressed--in the sense that it also necessarily expresses an impotence to have the future be present?
Along these lines, we might reread a passage from Derrida as applying to our "war" in this way:

...polemos unites adversaries, it brings together those who are opposed (Heidegger often insisted on [this]). The front, as the site upon which the First World War was waged, provides a historic figure for this polemos that brings enemies together as though they were conjoined in the extreme proximity of the face-to-face. This exceptional and troubling glorification of the front perhaps presages another type of mourning, namely, the loss of this front during and especially after the Second World War, the disappearance of this confrontation which allowed one to identify wthe enemy and even and especially to identify with the enemy.
-The Gift of Death, 17.

What is crucial about this passage is that it emphasizes how the mourning for the polemos is already this second mourning, is already a "presaging," and thus is already the mourning for its eventual possibility of being lost. The two move together, and characterize how fasicism shows up on the scene not in the restriction of freedom itself but in the genuine (/contradictory) insistence that there is (the loss of an) enemy. That is, where things get framed in terms of polemos or of will and impotence--even by the opposition (see Rich's column)--and where this language is not taken seriously, there fascist tendencies are really at work. We shouldn't read, then, the blatant idiocy of a phrase such as "the central front on the war on terror" as the machinations of a conniving fascist administration like the NSDAP at the height of its power (when it was fascist as Nazism), but as the very real reframing of the way we talk about our actions in the very real (early) fascist language of longing through power for a definite identification, a definite confrontation. That is, it is precisely in how it makes any characterization of them as "fascist" in the late fully fledged Nazi sense seem paranoid. Insofar as we long genuinely for a will to bring back the rights of the constitution--like Rich does--we've already succumbed to their more subtle fascism, because we too look only for a real confrontation, a real enemy.

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