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     Oct 18, 2012

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Beyond left and right
By Claudio Gallo

Alain de Benoist is one of the most interesting European critics of neoliberalism and its classical liberal roots. Born in the north of France, he is author of numerous books that describe and analyze the decline of Western civilization. Starting in his youth on the far right, he has arrived at the concept of the end of the categories of "left" and "right" in our post-modern world, which he sees as now dominated by "Single Thought". He maintains, in the words of Italian Marxian philosopher Costanzo Preve, the values of the right and the ideas of the left.

Claudio Gallo: In your recent Au bord de gouffre ("On the Edge of the Abyss") you speak about "the announced bankruptcy of the


money system". In our globalized world, however, the dissolution of modern political and economic forms seems to assume a paradoxical stability, as if the world system could hang in a state of permanent disintegration.

Alain de Benoist: You are raising an interesting point. Some authors believe that capitalism feeds itself with its crises, that they reinforce it (every time they are triumphantly overcome), rather than weaken it. The deep cause of this paradox should lay in the "naturalness" of the logic of capital, based on the automatic balance of supply and demand, costs and prices. The market should correct itself under the effect of Adam Smith's "invisible hand"; merchant exchange should be considered the natural form of exchange, and so on. You may conclude that all the hurdles to free trade, any form of protection or regulation, should be suppressed.

I don't share these views. I don't think that there is anything "natural" in the process of over-accumulation of capital or in the wild leap forward that summarizes the unlimited expansion of the market. Not only the market doesn't regulate itself, but it doesn't even appear spontaneously in history.

It was established in the late Middle Ages by public powers that were eager to monetize non-market exchanges that were eluding taxation. It gradually imposed itself at the expense of the old system of "giving, receiving and returning", starting from a Western matrix that you can perfectly position in space and time. About capitalism, I think it is afflicted by internal contradictions that will lead faster and faster to its fall in so far as it will be given full freedom of movement. As Nietzsche said: "What does not kill me, makes me stronger".

Until now capitalism adopted this slogan, but this attitude will have in the end a limited span. Even though capitalism's crises should keep it in life for long time, what matters will be the last crisis. The current financial and monetary crisis sprung precisely from the progressive destruction, since the days of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, of any form of economy regulation. Left to themselves, the financial markets are obeying their very logic.

Today we are witnessing the result of this: rising inequality, implementation of unbearable austerity programs, the colossal debts of states, delocalization, rising unemployment, destruction of ecosystems, etc ... At the same time, what we may call the economic illusion is unveiled: goods are not considered if not in terms of market value and immediate utility. The capitalist world is a world voided of all qualities that characterize human nature. But they inevitably return.

The "paradoxical stability" you speak of is by definition fragile. Many people have not yet realized the full extent of the current crisis because they are not yet personally touched by it. But this crisis is just beginning. From the political and social point of view, we are living in a sub-chaotic situation. Actually, chaos has not arrived yet, the social bodies remain relatively controllable through surveillance and control systems that are constantly developing, but the general atmosphere is increasingly resembling that of a "pre-civil war" (Eric Werner). What makes me pessimistic is the persuasion that there are no global solutions within the current dominant system. The capitalist system is neither "moralizable" nor reformable. It will not collapse under the blows of its opponents; it will collapse by itself.

CG: You are one of the few people today who criticize the principles of neoliberalism, a practice implicitly prohibited in "democratic" systems where the horizon of freedom is limited by the dominance of the economy. Do you see in our world social forces and a world vision that may become the subject and instrument of an alternative?

AdB: I am surely not the only one who criticizes neoliberalism, both in its praxis or in its theoretical foundations. Thanks to the current crisis, it seems rather that such criticism is popping up everywhere. What is true, however, is that an economic criticism of liberalism is not enough, for me at least. I make also a philosophical criticism (whose roots date back to what Aristotle said about chrematistics!), and also an anthropological one.

It would indeed be a serious mistake not to see that the liberal ideology also carries an implicit conception of man. This is the conception of homo economicus, the man reduced to its producer and consumer functions, whose only interest in life is continuously seeking to maximize his best material interest. Finally, beyond this very critique of liberalism, I also offer an economic criticism, that is, the way in which economic activity, which was once built - "embedded", said Karl Polanyi - in the social body, gradually emancipated from all constraint to become hegemonic in the life of human societies.

When all values are solely focused on market value, the symbolic imagery is colonized by the axiomatics of interest. The economy becomes one's destiny, and the consumer replaces the citizen. Under these conditions, to talk about democracy hasn't much sense. Democracy is a political system based on the sovereignty of the people. To function normally it requires that politics has a sovereign rule over the economy, that is to say the exact opposite of what we see today. It is not a coincidence that, thanks to the crisis, financiers and bankers have already seized power in several countries. Qui judicabit, who decides?

The answer to this old question makes you understand why states today are no longer sovereign. The way I see it, an alternative vision of the world is mostly definitely possible. Many writers and theorists have already traced its outlines. But if the critical thinking has its merits, it also has its limitations, which are those of all thoughts. To define what should be it is not enough to transform this "must be" in concrete reality. The most difficult question is there. To put the question of "social forces" which could embody a new practice is to assume again the issue of the historic subject of our time.

In the era of absolute capital, both post-bourgeois and post-proletarian, which is that of the omnipotence of what I called the capital-form, this historical subject cannot be the old proletariat. The historical subject today is the peoples - not the peoples in the sense of ethnos or even the demos, but the peoples considered in terms of their cultural diversity, now threatened in their political and social dimension as well.

You can see it in all countries that have been afflicted by the crisis: the main clash is between the people and the money system, represented by banks and financial markets. At the right moment, the new social forces will necessarily appear, because, also in politics, nature fears the void!.

CG: First Kosovo then Libya and now maybe Syria: the history of "humanitarian intervention" is the preamble of a new world order that emerges from the decline of national states. Is it really a more human world?

AdB: The current wars are mostly ideological wars, as such reminiscent of the old religious wars. Presented as "humanitarian interventions" or international police operations, undertaken in the name of the defense of "human rights", they are also wars that are essentially intended as "moral" wars when in fact their only purpose is to defend certain interests, expand areas of influence, control territories or energy resources.

In this sense, they represent a return to the "just war", as conceived by the theologians in the Middle Ages. Just war, or war "with just cause" (justa causa) is a war that criminalizes the enemy, because he is considered the defender of a bad cause, and therefore unjust. This conception of war led to the old religious wars that ravaged Europe in the 17th century. After the Westphalia Treaty (1648), this conception of war was replaced by a new one, associated itself to a new form of international law (jus publicum europaeum), which sought to replace the notion of justa causa with the one of justus hostis, just enemy. The enemy was defined as an opponent who might as well become later an ally.

It was believed that each belligerent party had his reasons. The "humanitarian wars" put an end to this more human kind of war. Freed from the limitations that the ancient theologians still assigned to jus ad bellum and jus in bello, they went along with the virtual disappearance of any form of international law. Indeed, legitimized by the ideology of human rights, they consecrate in fact the power of the stronger, starting with eternal North American imperialism. 

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