Taxonomic confusion in politics reflects something more sinister: a civilisation out of joint. People, including professional analysts, take refuge in semantic caves, with political reality but a shadow on the wall. Consequently they miss the forest of catastrophe for the trees of logorrhoea.
One hears gasps all over Europe about the impending election of Norbert Hofer of the Austrian Freedom Party to his country’s presidency. He’s a neo-Nazi, scream some – didn’t he say there’s no place for Muslims in Austria? And doesn’t he pack a Glock pistol at all times?
Herr Hofer objects. Who are you calling neo-Nazis, you miserable liberals? My party, he says, is “to the left of the US Democrats”. Even if true, this isn’t a refutation of the neo-Nazi charge.
Hitler’s Nazis were also to the left of the mainstream of today’s Democratic party, with their economic and social programmes only overlapping with its extreme left. Nonetheless they were indeed Nazis, though not yet neo-Nazis.
Nor is Hofer, with his socialist economic ideas, right-wing, extreme or otherwise. I mean, Castro and Saddam Hussein both carried pistols, yet no one called them right-wing on the strength of that fact. No one referred to the Polish king Jan Sobieski as right-wing either, though mainly because the term didn’t exist at the time.
Yet Sobieski too had doubts about Muslim presence in Austria. These he expressed most tangibly by thrashing the Turks in the 1683 Battle of Vienna and no doubt hoping that this victory would settle the issue once and for all. That didn’t happen, by the looks of it.
For all I know, Hofer may indeed be a neo-Nazi. That’s insignificant one way or the other. What matters is that his movement is a constituent of a global, cross-party revolt against the post-Enlightenment political consensus.
The Enlighteners, a misnomer if I’ve ever heard one, succeeded in winning the glossocratic war against actual reality, setting the terms of debate and imposing reality of the virtual kind.
That virtual reality almost drowned in the oceans of blood spilled by its most logical champions in the twentieth century. But somehow the phantom managed to shimmer ashore and hide behind the wall of pandemic indifference to politics, mixed with horror and revulsion.
The wall is now crumbling, and actual reality is beginning to punch holes in it all over the world. It’s a battering ram that’s getting heavier and heavier – the only thing that’s missing is the good hands to wield it.
For the Enlightenment current has led the Western world into a political and existential morass inhabited by encephalically challenged invertebrates, spineless nonentities. The trouble is that the West’s political mainstream flows out of the vile presuppositions of the Enlightenment, which makes it ill-equipped to reverse the flow.
What one calls those mainstream parties, and certainly what they call themselves, doesn’t matter. They all are a problem. None of them is the solution.
Yet, like any old nature, the nature of politics abhors a vacuum. If all mainstream parties are an empty space, someone is going to fill it, and that someone would have to eschew the meaningless political waffle. Once the perception that this lingo is indeed meaningless has grown beyond a certain point, people will want to hear real words addressing their real concerns.
This sounds good in theory, but in practice it only means that post-Enlightenment demagogues will be ousted by populist ones. One survival of the Enlightenment, the sacralisation of universal suffrage, precludes the possibility of good and clean hands propelling the aforementioned battering ram forward.
EU or no EU, mainstream political elites inevitably become self-contained and self-serving concerns out of touch with the very demos in whose name they govern. In that sense they are all denationalised, and various internationalist contrivances in the EU vein are but a logical extension of this process.
Such elites can only maintain their hold on power by trying to suppress, dilute or ideally destroy their demos. The Islamisation of Europe is a manifestation of this underlying urge, but it’s not the only one. Adding the cards of Eastern Europe to the Western pack and then reshuffling it to produce all sorts of random combinations is a closely related stratagem in the war against actual reality – and the demos that stubbornly clings to it.
But the demos is beginning to fight back. Alas, its leaders can only come from the margins of politics, or even from the uniform darkness beyond the margins. Thus you get your Matteo Salvininis, Geert Wilderses, Frauke Petrys, Marine Le Pens, Donald Trumps and Norbert Hofers – effective demagogues who may differ in their politics but who all exploit the vacuum left by the virtualisation of mainstream politics.
There’s nothing short of an existential revolt under way, but those of us who hate the offshoots of the Enlightenment must be careful what we wish for. We may evade the rock of totalitarian liberal democracy only to crash into the hard place of fascism.
Unfashionable as it may be to draw historical parallels, the two great existential revolts of the twentieth century, one against the ‘right’ and the other against the ‘left’, produced Bolshevism and Nazism.
God only knows what our century will bring. Meanwhile, congratulations to Herr Hofer are in order – or not, as the case may be.