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We lack faith, not faith in God, but faith in the world

The Time of Revolt
Forfatter: Donatella Di Cesare
Forlag: Polity Press, USA (Danmark, USA)
PHILOSOPHY / The immune democracy. According to the Italian philosopher Donatella Di Cwesare, there exists today a political culture ruled by the fear of the foreigner and the future, a sham democracy in favor of security, control and short-term competitive considerations. And those who consider themselves "liberal" today have suffered greatly in standing up to the irrational impulses and decisions that govern the market and the pursuit of short-term profit.


The Political Vocation of Philosophy
The other of the Other
Sovereign virus. The capitalist suffocation

A political fatigue and exhaustion has hit our times. It is difficult to put into words or simply explain the daily flow of problems, the feeling of helplessness, unsatisfied needs and frustrated desires, which permeate our world. Most of us are too busy to do anything about it, can't bear it, can't do anything but pursue our own lives. Often in fairly predictable and recognizable paths.

And in the midst of our busyness, in the midst of the pursuit of new striving, new change, new transcendence, one senses an escape, an escape away from the anxiety of no longer being able to glimpse a way out. No exit, nothing outside, no real transcendence. Nothing really new. "We live in a suffocating contemporary world," writes Donatella Di Cesare in The Political Vocation of Philosophy: "a time that bases itself on everything that should not be able to hit us, do us harm, that claims to have immunized ourselves against anything outside. Thus this age has swallowed up, banished and destroyed all that is different from itself. Driven by an ever-increasing immunological impulse: namely, to remain unscathed, to continue, swift and unscathed." Today's societies are a pressure cooker of fear, powerlessness and longing for change.

Don't touch me: The immune democracy

For Di Cesare, the philosophical recognition of reality is connected with our practical understanding of goodness and beauty. For her, we must rediscover a classic figure that connects the philosophical cold with the engaging human struggle against injustice.

Di Cesare is known as the woman who made a career out of it Heidegger and German history of philosophy, and as in her late autumn, she is now 66 years old. She writes books with anger, commitment and shrewdness, in which she exposes a worldwide dead political culture paralyzed by capitalism and security politics: About Western societies that maintain the status quo and defend the elites and the privileged middle class. The result is what she calls "immune democracy". Security and protection are preferred to participation and criticism.

"Propelled by an ever-increasing immunological impulse: namely, to remain unscathed, to continue, swift and unscathed."

This model, which has found its most blatant expression in the USA, is in the process of spreading beyond the rest of the Western world. For Di Cesare, it can be summed up in one formula: noli me tangere – "don't touch me". A political culture ruled by the fear of the stranger and the future and a contemporary market society where there is only the here and now. According to her, there is almost nothing in the political culture that points beyond the present and into the future.

Di Cesare writes a mixture of contemporary diagnosis and political philosophy, where the old political figures of state and citizen, individual and rights, constitutive and constituted demands are broken down and a sham democracy is maintained in favor of security, control and short-term competitive considerations.

Fear: A mental climate

The immune democracy, which she writes about in the book Sovereign virus. The capitalist suffocation, is a culture borne out of fear, a diffuse omnipresence fear there the people threaten, if it is terrorism, corona or hacking. Uncertainty drives politics forward. Exceptions and special laws create unclear and fluid transitions between politics, law and health.

Under coronaperiod everyone accepted and understood the biological parlance that immunize and protect themselves against external hostile bacteria that could invade and damage the body. But for Di Cesare, the politics of the West for a long time made immunization possible the material moisture meter shows you the decisive political strategy. It has long been about containing, shielding, excluding, risk assessment and securing oneself against anything foreign that might penetrate from the outside. Be it refugees, virus attacks, hacker attacks, tidal waves, heat waves, disruptive financial fluctuations, climate collapse, and yes, the future itself.

Di Cesare thinks further of his two colleagues and compatriot Giorgio agamben and Roberto Esposito their thoughts about biopolitics. But for her it is more existential, more all-encompassing. It is about the fact that today we have created a mental climate for a way of thinking about politics, which holds us captive and which locks a lot of politics in place.

Refugees, virus attacks, hacker attacks, tidal waves, heat waves, disruptive financial fluctuations and
climate collapse.

What is becoming clear to Di Cesare in these years is that liberal politics have failed. As said in Sovereign Virus: "Liberalism's greatest limitation is that it confuses guarantee with freedom." Because behind his longing for freedom, the bourgeois man's true face emerges: it bourgeoise perceives the world as dangerous. And life must be lived under as few elementary threats and disturbances as possible. You are not influenced – but forced.

Be it banks, luxury stores, Apple stores, closures of humanities studies,
the indifference to the natural destruction of growth.

It is this bourgeois microcosm that entrenches itself in its home, its privacy, its microworld. Today, the masses are disciplined to this self-inclusion in privacy, relative security, as she writes with Elias Canetti (Mass and power). The slogan of liberal politics, "You can do it yourself, you are not a victim", sounds good, but suffers from a convenient abstraction that confuses individuality with individualism. But there is a long way from the opportunism of the knight of fortune to the politically committed entrepreneur. The person who today likes to call himself "liberal" has suffered a lot in standing up to the irrational impulses and decisions that govern the market and the pursuit of short-term profit. This has proved devastating for the political culture, for the climate fight and faith in the future.


This leaves its mark on the entire political landscape. In the Danish election campaign, one appeals everywhere to security and the feeling of uncertainty. Including the fear of the stranger and the fear of losing the prosperity and wealth one already has. Tax cuts and more consumption top the political imagination. The result is a closed-mindedness where fear and arrogance go hand in hand.

From Sovereign Virus: "Poor and outcasts do not arouse compassion, but rather a mixture of anger, disapproval and fear." And the shift from the social to the biological is kept intact: "Through the lens of the virus, democracy in Western countries shows itself to be a immunitysystem that has worked for a long time and is now progressing in a more obvious way." Immune democracy cannot therefore be separated from the security state which has long constituted the paradigm for political leadership – where security is not about prevention but about managing uncertainty in a normalizing direction. The state controls the effects and not the causes, with the result that it must spend more and more resources and attention on them kontrol, police, surveillance and containment.

More and more resources and attention to control, police, surveillance
and containment.

A friend of mine says that we don't need more politics, but therapy. Another Danish friend, who has lived most of his adult life in the UK, tells me: "Everything in Denmark is about politics, reforms, commissions, regulations, everything can be arranged with 'administration'." Both statements seem to me to have a lot to do with what Di Cesare refers to as "it lost cold", which is again connected to a belief.

Everywhere, the political climate is marked by one thing: We are afraid. We are afraid of the stranger, of the future, of the unknown, of work, of not striking, of ourselves, of life. We lack faith, not faith in God, but faith in the world. Faith understood as a trust, a trust to the spirit, to ourselves, to the imagination, to the place, to the earth, to the rhythm of life, the local, to the meaning. Therefore, much political culture is dead and feeds on impotence and spontaneous affects. Parties have replaced principles and long-term goals with rapid opinion polls and focus groups, the election campaign has moved from streets and alleys to television and social media. Everything is choreographed and staged.

There is "something in the atmosphere, the air we breathe", says Di Cesare, something in the disciplinary language machine. Everywhere we get used to speaking in certain ways. Things are already arranged in a manner of speaking. Like a layer of Teflon smeared over the sprog. It has become difficult to hear another voice. Something that connects one with all that is wonderfully far away and very close, that runs in my veins, in the carotid artery. "The air is no longer innocent", writes De Cesare, "there is something in the air that makes us gasp". As if we lack fresh air. It has been going on for a long time, even before corona, the latter has only exhibited it.

The impulse of the rebellion: a hole in the middle of the state

How to break through this political deadlock, how to bring the impulse of the resistance back to the political arena? How to understand the rebellion today? The established political institutions and their leadership associate rebellion with something ungovernable and chaotic. But rebellion for Di Cesare cannot be controlled and tamed, as she writes in her last book, The Time of Revolt. It is about rekindling a connection with this outside, what opens up a hole in the middle of the state.

Historically, it has previously been the "nomadic barbarian", which she describes in Marranos. The Other of the Other, where Jewish minorities there would not be assimilated under Christian Spain, who fled and immigrated to other countries, e.g. Holland – and there helped to create one of the most progressive societies of the time.

The migrant of our time is the barbarian of our time, who does not speak in the official political language and who with his life and actions fights against the norms of the established civilization. This "outside", says Di Cesare, is not just chaos and anarchy: it is a new political space that is opening up with the movements of migrants, the young people in the suburbs, the fight against economic misery and vulnerability. It is about discovering that we share a political dissent, a resistance and disgust – towards a state order that controls any criticism and resistance through the police and increased militarization of the public space.

But resistance struggles and movements have changed. The universities and factories are no longer occupied. What previously united the political movements with communists, syndicalists and anarchists until the middle of the 20th century was an understanding of work and the working class which, through an overcoming of capitalism, would create a new shared horizon. But today, where the global proletariat is divided into wage-earning classes, precarious workers, industrial reserve armies and a redundant proletariat, it has become difficult to create a group organization. Not only work but the whole of life is now subject to the power of capital and consumption. Power no longer works through prohibition and repression as in the old factory society, but through communication and seduction. Power is uden centrum, uden facet, it is everywhere and nowhere. With the consequence that the resistance becomes existential. For Di Cesare, the insurgent struggle lives in a tension between "resistance and resignation."

Its impulse is permeated by a negativity, not a contradiction. It says no to simply accepting the world as it is, but it says yes to a belief in the world, to creation and change, yes to nature, to the spirit, and the stranger. Di Cesare refers to Camus' The rebel (1964), whose strength was to introduce the existential dimension into the rebellion – a creative impulse, a confirmation of something common, the åsødheden – that which opens for something to come. Without this deeper yes, the rebellion will remain short-lived. The Rebellion is not based on representation and visibility, an identifiable "we", which in the public space insists on democratic legitimacy and recognition. Such political engagement and demands for visibility are still within the framework of the established political recognition. According to Di Cesare, the current political system's rules of the game and the resulting struggle for visibility function as a power device which neutralizes the impulse of rebellion, which regulates the contradictions to death and steers away the conflicts.

A political-existential relationship

"When anger takes over the streets, it seeks to attack power," Di Cesare writes in The Time of Revolt. The rebellion is not destructive in itself, but must be understood as a symbolic attack on the "planetary governance" – be it banks, luxury stores, Apple stores, closures of humanities studies, the indifference towards the natural destruction of growth. The rebellion must unmask the hidden faces of power, show that it has become part of the institutional forms.

When students in Denmark demonstrate against the state's closure of educations, they should not only present figures showing that they are capable of getting into work with their education as well. They must reject the conditions that justify their education. In a way, Di Cesare calls for more punk, less bourgeois – more life ethics. What she calls a "political-existential relationship" to oneself, others and the world, must replace the strike at the factory. The discomfort and limitation of the strike is that it loses weight and intensity as soon as it is institutionalized. The same can be said about the student 'rebellion' around DK and elsewhere. For Di Cesare, the rebellion feeds on extra-legal forces. A true civil disobedience must also be willing to violate the applicable law, in order to highlight the injustice of the prevailing legal order. Anonymous, for example, uses the mask to hide itself, which really challenges the state, which only recognizes its own 'mask' when it comes to hiding state secrets. The state does not care about those who do not have a clear identity, the invisible, the anonymous, the withdrawn, unproductive and unremarkable. But precisely these voices and forces hold for Di Cesare a strong political potential. Anonymity is a resource that distances itself from the forms of power and that gradually sees other ways of working, producing, living, thinking and living. Di Cesare sees abdication of power ( dismissal and Marcello Tari), that distancing oneself from the state is a step on the way – but it is primarily the ethical and existential dimension of the rebellion that preoccupies her.

Border regime

The silent majority pays tribute to consensus, the state and national ideas about citizenship. The nation-state is taken for granted in any question of refugee policy, the opening of national borders. The rebellion, on the other hand, must be about this border regime, about the political architecture itself, about citizenship as such. The stateless and the foreigners with temporary residence are important role models for the political struggle according to Di Cesare. She attacks the fiction whereby the citizen's relationship with the state is based on a contract where, through identity papers, the citizen provides a specific identity, which in return must adapt to the prevailing property order of things.

One can escape from this, like Edward Snowden, claim to denationalize oneself, question whether one should belong to the state's territory. The migrant also insists on free movement, but also on being accepted as a stranger. The rebellion is the opening of the free movements. The rebellion is what breaks forth in the middle of time, what breaks with a monotonous life, the lonely life, the linear life, the false life. The impulse of rebellion can be what makes us wake up. The potential of one moment can be connected to other moments elsewhere. Other blockades, other stops, that stop the habits of everyday life and open for another time. This is how rebellious man can return.

Alexander Carnera
Alexander Carnera
Carnera is a freelance writer living in Copenhagen.

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