Zizek and Robinson on the The Collapse of the U.S. Conservative Movement–or is it the North American Political Right? or What, Precisely?

A focal point in the buzz of discourse among editorialists is that the North American political right has collapsed. The precise character of the collapse, however, and the conclusions that can be drawn from it, is in dispute. Whether this indicates an emergent left or a more complicated situation is the question, and to probe that question I compare the analyses of

Nathan J. Robinson, in his www.currentaffairs.org editorial titled Young people are identifying as socialists, the right has nothing to offer beyond grievance and hate, and the left is actually putting forward serious ideas.


Slavoj Zizek, in his www.independent.co.uk op-ed titled Alt-right Trump supporters and left-wing Bernie Sanders fans should join together to defeat capitalism; Class struggle is back as the main determining factor of our political life – even if the stakes appear to be totally different, from humanitarian crises to ecological threats, class struggle lurks in the background and casts its ominous shadow.


(i) The cultural-political-intellectual right has lost its way, in Robinson’s estimation, from the relative coherence of Buckly, Bloom, and, for some reason, Hayek (who never claimed to be a conservative; precisely the opposite is the case) to someone named Richard Posner and his A Failure of Capitalism, which is apparently a book, to Bannon’s “inchoerent mess,” to Yiannopoulos’ provocations without substance, to Bill Kristol’s admission that he “doesn’t know what he believes anymore,” and to Dinesh D’Souza arguing that “Democrats are Hitler.”
(ii) The North American political left, on the other hand, is developing rapidly both intellectually through its researchers, publications, and foundations, and on the ground because of popular anger. “Young women preferred Bernie Sanders to Hillary Clinton by a stunning 37 percentage points” offers Robinson, and for him this stands as evidence that in 2016 people were “upset and frustrated” enough for the “intellectual popularity” of socialism to take the form of a popular movement. This intellectual popularity takes the form of (a) the middle-brow left-wing quarterly Jacobin’s and its “clear explanations” of “what the left stands for,” (b) The People’s Policy Projects explanations, also clear, of “why economic injustice occurs,” (c) the release of Black Lives Matter’s “incredibly detailed and practical policy agenda,” Richard Wolff’s “idea of Worker Self-Directed Enterprises, Jane MacAlevey’s “strategy” for an “effective labour movement,” Naomi Klein’s “suggestions” for “resistance” to the Trump agenda, and the radical ideas collected by the anthologists Leonard and Sunkrara in The Future We Want..
(iii) Zizek, if I read him correctly, argues that “class struggle is back as the determining factor in political life.” This he bases on Senator Bernie Sanders’s “leftist critique of today’s global capitalism,” a critique resisted by the “Clinton wing of the Democratic Party,” and on Steve Bannon’s “populist revolt of underprivileged people against the elites” that takes the form of a struggle against the Republican establishment.

(iv) Hence for Zizek class-as-determiner “cuts across both parties” in the contrary yet complimentary form of Bannon’s populists and the Sanders movement. The struggle is no longer “between” the parties as much as “within” them, which is the very form a social-political realignment would take.
(v) Hence, for Zizek, it makes sense to consider an alliance of convenience, and an alliance however temporary, between the anti-establishment formations of left and right against not so much their corrupt and corrupting party establishments, but against the “global capitalist establishment” itself, of which the major U.S. party establishments are but remote branch offices.
(vi) Robinson’s analysis has the character of a random literature review where he lists writers or thinkers worthy of either praise or blame. But his list of the thinkers of the right is a muddle of (a) Reaganite movement conservatives, those who hew to the so-called Romneyist “three-legged stool” of security, free markets, and social conservatism, (b) open-borders, anti-Russia and pro-Israel Bush era neoconservatives such as Bill Kristol, and (c) the Trump partisans who bitterly oppose them on nearly every point. From this randomness he draws his conclusions. Zizek’s analysis, on the other hand, is global in character, and in his picture of events the stirrings of the political parties are but the surface irritations of deeper current based on a class struggle similar to the struggle Trump himself identifies: the struggle against globalism.

(vii) For Robinson Bannon’s line is “an incoherent mess about Western Judeo-Christian-something-or-other, tied to no actual policies.” Zizek’s view is more nuanced. Zizek grants qualified approval to Bannon’s struggle for “underprivileged people against the elites” even as he urges us to “never forget that Bannon is the beacon of the alt-right while Clinton supports many progressive causes like fights against racism and sexism.” The so-called alt-right in its variations reduces to (a) white identity combined with (b) the so-called JQ, or the Jewish Question. More sophisticated figures among so-called alt-righters insist on a biological basis to the problem of developing a genuinely civil society. This Zizek opposes. But he also opposes the divisive tendencies of the identity politics of Clinton: he warns us to “never forget that the LGBT+ struggle can also be coopted by the mainstream liberalism against ‘class essentialism’ of the left.”
(viii) Robinson draws no distinction between the new right, the far right, the emergent right, or the alt-right, and the so-called conservative movement that began in the 70s and reached its zenith in the Reagan era. It is the conservative movement that collapsed, and it collapsed with Willard Romney, its most complete and final expression, that point when the movement passed into its opposite in the figure of an equity capitalist, which represents capital itself passing into its opposite in the form of liquidation and debt, the very form of globalism.
(ix) Contra Robinson, and for better or worse, the emergent right–as I prefer to call it as it lacks a definitive character at the moment–does have ideas, dangerous ideas, and ideas so powerful that Google-Facebook-Twitter have yet to stamp them out completely. Here are examples of their efforts looking forward to 2018:


(x) And so forth.

yours &c.
dr. g.v. wilkes iv


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