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A Heteronomous Hobby: Report from the Netherlands


Populism articulates the political in an oneiric manner, but the project of a political psychoanalysis of populist dreams has proven extraordinarily difficult. A cure is nowhere in sight. Part of the problem for those seeking to oppose it is that, time and again, they are forced to respond to its manifest content while struggling to put the repressed latent content on the agenda. In Holland, Geert Wilders clearly articulates the fears a number of overlapping but distinct groups concerning several social phenomena: immigration, crime and insecurity, and the erosion of the welfare state. Abstract attempts at implicating the monolithic evil of “Islam” articulate genuine issues, but in a displaced and condensed manner.

During the 1990s Dutch politics appeared to have become radically post-political. Even more enthusiastically than their colleagues elsewhere, the Dutch social democrats of the PvdA bought into the narrative of the end of ideologies, forming the so-called “purple coalition” with the right-wing and left-wing liberal parties, VVD and D66. The political antagonisms of the past had seemingly evaporated in favor of a kind of technocratic third-way politics enabled by economic growth. Of course, this involved the ceding of initiative to neoliberal “free market” apologists who showed little inclination of throwing their own ideology out with the trash. The rise of Pim Fortuyn in 2001–2002 signaled the end of this technocratic interlude; political antagonism was articulated explicitly once more, but in the form of Islamophobia and a nationalist, isolationist turn. Following Pim Fortuyn’s murder in 2002, for the rest of the decade Dutch politics would be marked by the implosion of his movement and various aspiring successors’ attempts at carrying it forward. After the (opinion poll–based) rise and fall of “Iron” Rita Verdonk, it was Geert Wilders who took the prize, winning dramatically in the 2010 local and national elections.

The protracted negotiations that followed the national elections ended in October 2010 with the formation of the Rutte government, a coalition of the market-liberal VVD and the Christian-Democratic CDA that is dependent on the parliamentary support of the populist PVV led by Wilders—now in the perfect position to shape government policy while free to distance himself from it at his convenience. Wilders is known for remarks that present Islam as intrinsically evil and incompatible with Western civilization; the Koran should be banned, like Hitler’s Mein Kampf, and “tens of millions of Muslims” may have to be deported from Europe. For years, Wilders has been setting the tone for what passes as public debate: while attacking “the media” as “a left-wing church” is integral to the populist repertoire since Fortuyn, Wilders has in fact played these very media like a virtuoso.

One of his major campaign promises was to safeguard pensions, which was undoubtedly attractive to many who would not necessarily go along with his rhetoric. And yet Wilders shores up a cabinet led by the market-liberal VVD from which he himself hails. We see a familiar collusion between populist attacks on elites and de facto support of policies from which the financial elite stands to profit. But, after all, isn’t the real enemy a different elite altogether: the shadowy intellectual and artistic quasi-class?

Read the full article here.