Using Zizek against Red Toryism

Early in 2008, philosopher Slavoj Žižek published a book entitled Violence: Six Sideways Reflections in which he aims to describe the differences between the violence we might see on the news in the form of thuggery and the violence incurred by the workings of the rogue bankers tweaking the economy. The difference, for Žižek, is the difference between “subjective” and “objective” violence. That is to say, “subjective” violence is the perceptibly obvious violence seen on the streets in the form of “crime and terror, civil unrest, international conflict” whereas “objective” violence is the unseen form of violence that takes the form of either the “symbolic” (bound in language and its forms), or the “systemic” (the catastrophic consequences of our economy when it is functioning as normal). The very notion that this objective violence is unseen sustains the level with which we perceive something as subjectively violent.

Žižek readily points to the likes of Bill Gates and George Soros as figureheads of a new type of business ethic that implicitly incorporates objective violence. They create a philanthropic standard for themselves at which they desire to be perceived, when in fact the more appropriate standard to which one should perceive them is at the concealed level of their function in the economy, an economy that determines the fate of individuals and whole nations. For instance when their philanthropy is contrasted to a street robber it might seem obvious who the violent criminal is, but when we start to analyse that which may not be readily perceptible – objective violence – , we start to understand their violence at another level, which the philanthropy has been used to camouflage.

If we change the word philanthropy with compassion we will have some idea of the tools the Tories are playing with at the moment. We’ve had hug-a-hoodie, we’ve had Cameron talk about white-collar crime, George Osborne has called for regulation of the financial system and section 28 has been apologised for. We have the choice, we can either accept that (unsurprisingly) a fairer system for all people regardless of class, race and sexuality does win votes and so the Tories are appealing to this, or the Tories really have changed.

For me, it’s a bit of both. The Tories have always wanted to hone in on some of the better ideas of the Labour party which is why they elected a meek and mild, soft Tory like Cameron to front them. He is at once electable and hasn’t got all the belligerence of previous leaders (such as Michael Howard). But what lurks around the corner with the Tories? They insist on lowering taxes for the rich, they still insist Britain is broken due to a lack in marriage, and they’ve decided to group themselves with fascists and Nazi apologists in Europe who would’ve seen section 28 as nothing short of pink propaganda.

The most intriguing expression to come out conservatism in Britain in the ‘compassionate’ period is Red Toryism. Ideas like it have been circulating for a while, but its British proponent is Philip Blond, a former theologian and director of the Progressive Conservatism Project at Demos. The idea has a faint whiff of libertarianism, in that it wants to curb welfare dependence while encouraging those on lower incomes to invest in enterprise with investment vouchers, creating an investment pool. These all sound rather like the ideas of one commentator who, on the subject of the part-privatisation of Royal Mail, justified the myth that the public services aren’t creating capital and thus should have its funding from tax taken away.

All in all, it seems more of the same, that the bottom end are sold “opportunities” in order that money can be taken away from the welfare state – which is not, contrary to our crap right-wing media’s opinion, a haven for the lazy – and they enter into another dog-eat-dog lottery that simply rearticulates the concentration of wealth in this country, and others that are dominated by the markets (see this from Don Paskini explaining how Red Toryism is more of the same). And all this is gathered under the collective term communitarianism – meaning civic groups should replace governmental functions where possible.

Sunny Hundal has spotted a strategic problem for the left since the initiative vindicates elements of people power that the left have always fought for. The version that the left has championed, however, was not underlined with a plan to promote lower income or unemployment as a source of investment opportunities – at best it outright fails to iron out the problems that make these societal injustices occur at all, at worst it ignores or absolves them.

So the way in which Blond has supported his communitarianism is by utilising more of the same expressions of false hope provided by the dog-eat-dog world of the markets. But this standard has been obfuscated by a standard of compassionate camouflage. Exactly the sort of camouflage Zizek was talking about that Soros and Gates use.

So now is the chance for the left to pounce, to promote its own communitarianism based on dialogues between people and public services – like the type used by Ed Balls and his idea that education can get stronger through dialogue between parent, teachers and authority over the internet – and overcome the hidden motives by the Tories.

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2 Responses to Using Zizek against Red Toryism

  1. Rowland says:

    I’m not sure I quite understood the bit about the philanthropic standard.

    Looks like we’re thinking along similar lines though: http://www.rowlandmanthorpe.com/blog/2009/07/who-can-fix-global-finance-not-marx-lenin/

    • I’m thinking on the lines of the gold standard, that Soros and Gates, by virtue of their philanthropy, have gained an image that is underlined by charity. I think Ted Turner once said that he wants to be seen as a philanthropist first, businessman second, and this is what I mean by philanthropic standard; that the aim is to obscure the dirty money business, thereby raising the standard by which we judge them.

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