News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: The Bush Spin-Machine, According to Simon Critchley

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Bush Spin-Machine, According to Simon Critchley

Simon Critchley has some important remarks about how this administartion and its apologists do politics. For Critchley, contrary to the view on the left that Bush is an idiot, Bush and his minions are extremely adept at using the main tools of politics: fear and terror.

Critchley writes:

This idea of politics as the management of fear is nothing new. ... Shore up the mean with reverence and terror. But never banish terror from the gates of the state. The stronger the fear, the stronger the reverence for the just, the stronger your country's wall and the city's safety. A safer world, a more hopeful America, to recall the slogan of the brilliantly, indeed spectacularly, well-managed Republican National Convention in New York in September 2004. The political as the strength of the country's wall, is maintained through an economy of fear and an economy of terror. Peace is nothing more than the regulation of the psycho-political economy of awe and reverential fear, of using the threat of terror in order to bind citizens to the circuit of their subjection.

As a general outline for how this administration marshals its power in the field, we can see how Bushites always work at creating an enemy. Once this is done, they then proceed to raise the danger that these enemies pose to the "righteous" thoughts and morality that buttress the US social order. Enemies who give the lie to this fantasy threaten the noble lies that the Bush admin uses to justify its domestic and its foreign policies. These noble lies include the concepts of freedom, democracy, and human rights.

For Critchley, the Bushites' political mobilization of fear and lie occurs via a millenarian context--that is, the language used is depoliticized because it relies on the religious, absolute and supposedly context-free universality of divine revelation.

[T]he [Bushite] concept of the political is based on the fantasy construction of the enemy and maintenance of the economy of awe and terror that allows order to be secured in the so-called homeland. On the other hand, the decisive feature that defines the current US administration is a thoroughgoing hypocrisy about the political. What I mean is that, in Carl Schmitt's terms, there is something chronically depoliticising about the ideology of the current administration. Going back to those ignoble lies that are being told, contemporary US imperial power espouses an utterly moralising, universalist, indeed millennial, ideology whose key signifier is freedom. Allied to freedom are notions of democracy and human rights, and the administration even has the audacity to speak about human dignity in the 2002 National Security Strategy document that provided the metaphysical justification for pre-emptive military action in Afghanistan and Iraq.

While Critchley is critical of this politics, however, he sees it as highly effective. Its hypocrisy resides in the disconnect between the propaganda about the higher virtues of justice and the actions undertaken to accomplish those ideals. The depoliticized nature of the ideals--thgrough revelation--allows them to marshal the fear of a higher power at the same time that the means used to accomplish these ideals literally can include every possible means.

The "depoliticizing" aspect of the Bushian approach to politics which Critchley refers to is the idea that there are laws that are beyond time/space and historical conditioning. Bush's pronouncements sound as though he's saying something eternal, absolute and without question. For his base, of course, this goes without saying. However, even for those on the Right who have no religious proclivities, there's still the notion that some essential "human nature" exists and that Bush's style of down-home rhetoric reflects that truth about what it means to be a human being.

Critchley suggests that the religious terminology used by the Bush apologists for their decision making appears to take the political decisions out of the political realm. This is the fantasy part of Critchley's essay. The fantasy involves a duplicitous use of religious rhetoric to cover for what are really political decisions. These political decisions are really the stuff and substance of every political system per se. That is, the use and maipulation of fear and terror. The religious terminology ameliorates the brute reality of these political gestures by the Bush fantasy machine.

Neoliberalism serves as the "space" or logical context in which the religious ideology of Bush and his apologists can be brought into play. This type of religious ideology has its own unique characteristics that differentatiate it from, say, the way that Christianity was used (or fit) in the Roman Empire, in the rise of industrial capitalism in the 19th century, and so on. Each socio-economic era does seem to give rise to various, perhaps determined, religious possibilities and individual types. That neoliberalism has given rise to free-market evangelicals (think of Robertson and others) who spread not just the Gospel of Xrist but also American-style capitalism perhaps best exemplifies this.

The Critchley article does not address these questions directly but merely seems to describe something that, for me, is simply a fact--that the neoliberal Xtian, such as Bush, sells an economico-political agenda by asserting the non-historically conditioned form of Xtianity--a Xtianity that, according to this ideology, has no contingent accretions. It is instead a way of getting direct access to God. As such, the Bushites can declare that its political appeal is to an authority above and beyond merely historically conditioned laws, procedures, institutions, etc.

This is part, I think of what Critchley is saying the fantasy of the Bush ideology involves. The fantasy here, of course, is that the Bush ideology can assert truths that are non-contingent and that are therefore non-political. This millenarian aspect--the depoliticized, religious nature of the Bush doctrines--leads the Bushite apologists to raise apocalyptic premonitions of disaster. At the same time, the depoliticized nature of the rhetoric enables them to suggest what most would call inquistional tactics and terrorist modes of attack against its perceived enemies.

Critchley's points about fear and terror and forming enemies falls out from this depoliticized formulation of the Bush ideology. The fear and terror are the key instruments used in governing any political system. By calling upon a higher authority, one that transcends time/space, the Bush political machinery can use these tools in such a way as to give the illusion of eternal verity. The illusion (Critchley calls it fantasy) seems, therefore, two-fold: 1) that a political ideology can be realized from sources that are non-contingent, and 2) that the implementation of it using the tools of terror and fear arise from an eternal authority, ergo beyond earthly question.

I may be stating the obvious here. If so, please disregard the comments. But I do think that Critchley has homed in on very important aspects of the Bush ideology. Critchley has done so by focusing on fear and terror, psychological elements that form the basis of any state or political structuring. The recognition of the use of fear and terror in governing a state goes back to Plato. (Note Critchley's allusion to the noble lie.) For in his Republic Plato stresses that the guardians (those who rule the state) must be taught "what to fear and what not to fear." In knowing this, the guardians thefore derive their respect for the laws and also their very ability to maintain control over Plato's version of Orwell's proles.

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