The old bourgeois capitalism, in the dialectical phase, preferred the culture of the Right, with its nationalism, its disciplinary authoritarianism, its patriarchy, its alliance with the altar and its values, at that time functional to the reproduction of the mode of production.
Today, the post-bourgeois turbo-capital of globalization, of the free market and free desire, in the absolute-totalitarian phase, prefers the culture of the Left, with its celebration of anthropological deregulation and of the unlimited openness of the imaginary and of real borders, with its dogmatics of the de-sovereignization of the States and the falsely rebellious deconstruction of the old bourgeois norms. Therein lies—in Preve’s words—the “profound affinity between leftist culture and the fact of globalization.”
Right-wing capitalism, of nationalism, discipline, patriarchy, religion and compulsory military service, gives way to the new leftist capitalism—that is, to progressive neoliberalism—of cosmopolitanism, consumerist permissiveness, post-family individualism and ERASMUS as the new “compulsory military service” for the education of the new generations in the values of precariousness and nomadism, of openness and deregulated enjoyment.
The order of the hegemonic discourse managed by the heralds of the culture of the champagne-Left, on the one hand, celebrates globalization as a natural and intrinsically good reality. On the other hand, with a symmetrical movement, it delegitimizes as dangerous ethnic and religious, nationalist and regressive reactions; everything that in various ways calls it into question. However, as Preve has suggested, it would be enough to “gesturally reorient” the gaze to gain a different perspective, from below and for those from below. Instead of “globalization,” we should speak of American-centric capitalist imperialism without borders. And instead of ethnic and religious, nationalist and regressive reactions, we should speak of legitimate national and cultural resistance to the falsely humanitarian violence of capitalist globalization of misery and homologation.
It is what Nancy Fraser has called “progressive neoliberalism,” synthesizing well the honeymoon between the class fanaticism of the market economy and the liberal-libertarian instances of the “artistic critique” of the new Left referent in struggle against any figure of tradition and limit, of community and identity, of people and transcendence. The 1960s substitution of the Marxian revolutionary, who fights against capital, for the Nietzschean hooligan rebel, who transvalues the old bourgeois values, provokes this inclined plane that leads to the paradoxical present condition: “the right to reefer” and the “surrogate womb” are conceived by the neo-Left as more important and emancipatory than any act of transformation of the world, or of taking a stand against the neoliberal exploitation of labor, colonial exterminations and imperialist wars hypocritically presented as “peace missions.”
Herein lies the deception of “civil rights,” a noble title used entirely improperly by progressive neoliberalism to: a) divert attention from the social issue and labor rights; and b) lead the Left and the dominated classes to the assumption of neoliberal points of view, for which the only struggles worth fighting are those for the individualistic liberalization of customs and consumption (we repeat, “civil rights” liberal Newspeak calls them), along with the necessary export, by missile, of those rights to areas of the planet not yet subsumed under the free market and its progressive neoliberalism.
Particularly in philosophy, the relativistic and anti-metaphysical nihilism of postmodernist “weak thought” is presented idealiter as the pinnacle of anti-conformism, when in reality it is the ideal Weltanschauung to justify the foundationless society of the liberal-nihilistic globalization of the relativistic fundamentalism of the commodity form. The individualistic liberalization of lifestyles is based on the philosophy of postmodern relativism, thanks to which values and “the immutable”—to say it with Emanuele Severino—are dissolved, and everything becomes “relative,” that is, in exclusive relation to the desires of consumption of the desiring subject.
Nihilistic relativism and anti-veritative utilitarianism are the ideal forma mentis for the liberal-market cosmos, since they imply that all representations can be equally useful, as long as they do not conflict with the market and, in this way, favor it. The postmodernist Left finds its clearest expression in the philosophical work of Richard Rorty—convinced that leftist thought is based on the “ironic” deconstruction of absolutes and metaphysical foundations—and in the apparently very different thought of Slavoj Žižek, a bizarre example of “postmodern Marxism” that, in addition to transforming Marx and Hegel into trash phenomena, ends up delegitimizing resistance to Atlanticist globalization as totalitarian and terrorist.
Gianni Vattimo’s “weak thought” itself, regardless of its ultimate objectives in an anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist sense—otherwise in contradiction with its basic philosophical presuppositions—owes its success not least to its high degree of compatibility with the new liquid and post-metaphysical structure of capitalism. Theorizing the “weakening” of the fundamental metaphysical and truthful structures, Vattimo outlined, back in the 1980s of the “short century,” the new ideological frame of reference of absolute-totalitarian commercialism, effectively confirming Jameson’s thesis about the nature of postmodernism as the cultural logic of late capitalism.
Turbo-capitalist society is no longer based on supposed transcendent truths (Christian religion) or on correspondence with human nature (Greek philosophy). It is based, on the contrary, solely on the verification of the correct capitalist reproduction actually given. For this reason, the turbo-capitalism of the global market society expresses itself economically in utilitarianism and philosophically in relativistic nihilism. As foreshadowed by Preve and as we ourselves emphasized in Difendere chi siamo (2020), the turbo-capitalist society needs homines vacui and post-identitarians, consumers without identity and without critical spirit. And it is the leftism of sinistrash that zealously produces the ideal anthropological profile for capitalist globalization, the postmodern and “open-minded” homo neoliberalis, that is, “empty” of all content and ready to receive whatever the production system wants from time to time to “fill” it with.
In fact, post-metaphysical turbo-capitalism knows no moral, religious or anthropological limits to oppose to the integral advent of exchange value as the only accepted value: the ideal subject of turbo-capitalism—homo neoliberalis—is, then, the left-wing individual, engaged in rainbow battles for the whims of consumption and disinterested in social battles for work and against imperialism; in a word, he is the post-bourgeois, post-proletarian and ultra-capitalist Nietzschean Superman, bearer of an unlimited will of consumerist power, economically right-wing, culturally left-wing and politically center-wing. It is, to stay in the lexicon of philosophy, the realization of the “protagoric man,” whose subject—understood as a desiring individual is—πάντων χρημάτων μέτρον—”measure of all things.” Thus, politics itself becomes, for the new Left, a struggle against all the limits that in various ways hinder the realization of the subjective desires of that protagoric man.
Moreover, the Left oriented individual is the ideal subject of turbo-capital, since tendentially—let us think mainly of the generation of 1968ers—he is a figure disappointed by the proletarian and communist “illusions.” And, eo ipso, he provides a depressive psychological basis in the name of “disenchantment” (Entzauberung); almost as if he were an ideal “figure” of the Phenomenology of Spirit, historicist disenchantment; that is to say, the loss of faith in the advent of the redeemed society is dialectically invested in the acceptance—depressive or euphoric—of the planetary reification of the neoliberal order. The post-modern can rightly be understood as the fundamental figure of the rationalization of disenchantment and reconciliation with the nihilism of capital elevated to the only possible world, with the addition of the definitive decline of belief in emancipatory “grand narratives.”
For this reason, the liberal new Left also presents itself as a “postmodern Left,” the guardian of relativistic nihilism and the disenchantment of the end of faith in the great narratives of overcoming capitalism: the “strong thought,” veritative and still radically metaphysical of Hegel and Marx, is abandoned by the new Left in favor of the “weak thought” of a Nietzsche reinterpreted in a postmodern key as a sulphurous “hammerer” of values and of the very idea of truth, and as a theorist of the Superman with an unlimited consumerist will to power.
As for relativistic nihilism, which the neo-Nietzschean Left celebrates as “emancipatory” with respect to the metaphysical and veritative pretensions of the Absolutes, this is precisely the foundation of capitalist disempowerment, which turns everything relative to the nihil of the commodity form and, neutralizing the very idea of truth, annihilates the basis of the critique of falsehood and of the insurrection against injustice. Nihilism does not lead to the emancipation of the multiplicity of lifestyles, as Vattimo believes, but rather leads to the disenchanted acceptance of the steel cage of techno-capitalism, within which differences proliferate in the very act with which they are reduced to articulations of the commodity form. From this point of view, Foucault also tends to be “normalized” and assimilated by the neo-Left, which has elevated him to the category of postmodern critic of the inevitable nexus between truth and authoritarian power. And, thus, they make liberation coincide with the abandonment of any pretension to truth.
As for disenchantment, it coincides with the profile of the “last man” thematized by Nietzsche. Der lezte Mensch, “the last man,” becomes aware of the “death of God” and the impossibility of the redemption in which he had also believed, and reconciles himself with meaninglessness, judging it as an irredeemable destiny. This anthropological and cultural profile finds timely confirmation in the existential adventure of the “generation of 1968” and of Lyotard himself, the theorist of the Postmodern Condition. He lost his original faith in socialism (he was a militant of the Marxist group Socialisme ou Barbarie) and reconverted to capitalist nihilism, lived as an inescapable steel cage but with consented spaces of individual freedom (in a rigorously alienated and marketized form, ça va sans dire). For all these reasons, postmodernism remains a philosophy of the rationalization of disenchantment and, at the same time, of the conversion to the acceptance of techno-capitalist nihilism understood as an emancipatory opportunity.
Diego Fusaro is professor of the History of Philosophy at the IASSP in Milan (Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies) where he is also scientific director. He is a scholar of the Philosophy of History, specializing in the thought of Fichte, Hegel, and Marx. His interest is oriented towards German idealism, its precursors (Spinoza) and its followers (Marx), with a particular emphasis on Italian thought (Gramsci or Gentile, among others). he is the author of many books, including Fichte and the Vocation of the Intellectual, The Place of Possibility: Toward a New Philosophy of Praxis, and Marx, again!: The Spectre Returns. This article appears courtesy of Posmodernia.
Featured: Cut with the Kitchen Knife, collage by Hannah Höch (1889-1978); created in 1919.