Last week, after the dispiriting results of the Brexit referendum, we posted an excerpt from the introduction to a 2011 special issue of e-flux journal with the theme “Idiot Wind: On the Rise of Right-Wing Populism in the US and Europe, and What It Means for Contemporary Art.” The Brexit vote, along with related developments like the rise of Donald Trump in the US, clearly demonstrate that the idiot wind has only gathered strength in the intervening years. Today we feature a piece by Hito Steyerl from that issue. Entitled “Right in our Face,” the text examines the semi-official racism of government elites in Germany and Austria, and crucially reminds us that xenophobia is not exclusively a working-class phenomenon. Like the introduction we featured last week, Steyerl’s piece sounds like it could’ve been written yesterday instead of five years ago. Here’s an excerpt:
All of these quite practical acts of violence were greatly supported and even applauded by elites, who took every opportunity to express doubts about ethnic minorities’ genetic makeup, inherited lack of intelligence, inbred fanaticism, and perceived failure to assimilate. We cannot neglect the fact that contemporary racism is eminently class-driven: it has its stronghold not in the working class, but in middle classes panicked by global competition, as well as in elites, who use the opportunity to deflect from growing social inequality by dangling the prospect of race-based subsidies for the working classes. Jacques Rancière’s recent refutation of the phantasm of an assumed working-class passion for racism is an extremely important tool of analysis here. Popular racist passion is seen as a primordially affective expression to be respected at any cost—and conveniently enables politicians to create racist policies to “acknowledge” them. But in effect, these passions are greatly exaggerated to allow room for middle and upper class racism to safely indulge itself, all the while remodeling the former First World as a defensive and resentful fortress. A bastille devastated from the inside by the delayed effects of shock capitalism, which have finally hit home…
Writer Boris Buden has compared this transition to the old philosophical problem of sophism. How many hairs does one have to lose to be considered bald? Or, in political terms: How much civility can the public sphere lose without lapsing into fascism? How much fear among minorities and how much radical neoliberal pauperization is permissible for societies to still qualify as democracies? To translate back to the language of sophism: Can ten remaining hairs still make a hairy head? Seven? Or even five? In other words: At what point do whole societies become skinheads? At what point does the politics of “more of the same” lapse into the militant call for more sameness?
Image: Arnold Schönberg, Blue Gaze, date unknown. Oil on canvas.