The bonfire of democracy

One curiosity of the current historical era is that democracy has identified itself with the liberal market.  Democracy will henceforth claim victory – the victory of the successful over the unsuccessful.  And there is nothing wrong with winning – everyone has his chance.  But these triumphs differ from the triumphs of, for example, Pericles, because today’s society is not reaping any benefits from this victory of the strong.  The primary focus of a Periclean or Jeffersonian democracy was the greater society, not just an individual showing in the race.  Today, society functions as nothing more than an arena for the liberal market, and – in a best-case scenario – the public are cast into the role of spectators, although more often they serve as merely an impediment to the competition.

The ideal of democracy includes human-rights safeguards that prevent the strong from vanquishing the weak.  But the “democracy – liberal market” hybrid of recent years sanctions the perennial vanquishing of the weak by creating a caste of “global elite” – the strongest players who are citizens of the world market rather than citizens of a specific society.  Success in the market automatically entails influence in politics.  The presidents of banks, heads of corporations, and owners of mineral wealth do not represent any society, or even their own capital, but rather a new entity, a democratic nomenklatura.

But their ideology is not fundamentally right-wing, and democracy’s newest political class represents the interests of the right in only a nominal sense.  It is crucial to understand that many viewpoints that are considered leftist also have their place in this new nomenklatura, alongside the right, and left-wing terminology has been included in the new ideology in an ornamental capacity.  In reality, Hannah Arendt does not contradict Ayn Rand, but augments her – the two women are equally passionate apologists for the new ideology.  The new ideology’s system of values is also well served by avant-garde art, creative works that lack subjects, and left-leaning curators, while the nominally leftist Slavoj Žižek does as much for the new ideology as the nominally right-wing Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld: they are all the handmaidens of this new thinking.  The new democratic nomenklatura is a new type of class created by a democratic market that loves freedom and embraces the ideals of personal freedom for everyone, but its neo-feudal oppression of others is purely inevitable.  This ideology of the democratic nomenklatura is seen as the most progressive school of contemporary thought.  The public is convinced that the existence of rich feudal overlords is symbolic of their own freedom – many people believe this and thousands of journalists chronicle this situation every day.  And the feudal overlords themselves believe that what they are doing is good.

American painter, film-maker and one of the leaders of the Pop Art movement Andrey Vargola, aka Andy Warhol (1928 - 1987). Photo by John Minihan/Evening Standard taken in 1980.
American painter, film-maker and one of the leaders of the Pop Art movement Andrey Vargola, aka Andy Warhol (1928 – 1987). Photo by John Minihan/Evening Standard taken in 1980.

Churchill’s mantra of “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms,” Karl Popper’s teachings about “The Open Society and Its Enemies,” Hannah Arendt’s essay on totalitarianism, the ontology of guilt described by Heidegger and the ontology of labor described by Ayn Rand, the philosophy of Andy Warhol, and the concept of the contemporary art market have all merged into a unified, dogmatic school of thought.  Try to extract and criticize one of the tenets from the overall framework – perhaps question the greatness of Andy Warhol – and through the lens of Hannah Arendt you will be shown how he symbolizes freedom.  Try to question Arendt’s definition of totalitarianism and Popper will be used to explain to you that the kernels of oppression are easy to recognize in a closed society.

Everyone will henceforth be well prepared when sparring with dictatorships: an ordinary street dispute is actually a clash between dictatorship and democracy, and the public is assured that they are faced with an inescapable choice between totalitarianism and democracy – no third option is available.  The challenge is posed immediately – would you rather live in North Korea?  Choose democracy – it’s the best there is.  And then comes the quote from Popper: it turns out that even long ago Plato claimed that the public bore ironclad obligations to one another – and you can see how that all led to concentration camps.  And then Hannah Arendt’s quote about the banality of evil – you see how easy it is for totalitarianism to take root.  And then Ayn Rand’s formulas: don’t think about the equality of those who are second-rate, but about personal initiative and success.  Everything is clear and logical.

And today, faced with this new frame of reference, citizens frantically search their textbooks but find no other answer: is there really nothing better than democracy?  Constitutional monarchy?  Anarchy?  Communism?  Take a good look – there’s nothing better than democracy.  And the market – the development of progress; it all comes together.  Now it’s clear why George Soros has an estate in Southampton Village and the barbarians are being bombed.

Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana in Florence, XVI century
Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana in Florence, XVI century

It never occurs to any of the polemicists that this debate rests simultaneously on two systems of logic: the question about North Korea can be raised using the system of values of the new ideology, but posing such a question would be supremely ludicrous using traditional, historical logic.  Historically, no choice exists between totalitarianism and democracy; it only appears in the works of Karl Popper and Hannah Arendt.  Historically, the actual choice is much more complicated.  Even such egregious phenomena such as Nazi Germany were not entirely consistent, not to mention less odious cases.  To the question, “Would you like to live in North Korea?” one could answer, “No, I would prefer Florence during the time of Lorenzo de’ Medici, but no later.  The golden age of Florence was brief, but that is precisely the type of government I want.

When contemporary social scientists made the suggestion that in the future we will see only a single civilization, evolving from barbarism to progress, and that the common values of democracy will apply to all – at that moment a permanent war was declared.

And the idea of democracy became the first victim of this simplicity.  It was initially conceived as a way to regulate a specific society, but any democracy today that is allied with a dimensionless free market has actually been stripped of its original features.  We live in a strange time – a time when the beautiful word “democracy” has a frightening sound to many people.  It is not possible to reduce a hundred cultures to a single common denominator, but arranging a global conflagration is something feasible.  Everyone was afraid of a global conflagration that would serve the ends of malicious communism, and no one noticed that it was the very concept of a global market democracy that was leading to that global conflagration.

ruinsThe history of any country is a deeply individual and dramatic phenomenon that merges art, geography, climate, national character, traditions and customs, and handicrafts and religion – but today one is struck by the fact that unique countries are no longer needed.  And on this point modern ideology offers a simple, yet effective, logical deception: a country’s citizens are led to believe that if they are so sovereign, so personally unique – what need do they have of a government if each of them is an individual personality?  Why should you have a home when everyone can have a bank account?  The “state” corporation loses its meaning when juxtaposed against more successful corporations.

The collapse of countries into tribes, and those tribes into warring clans, corresponds to the process of the globalization of a liberal economy.  No one will resurrect what has been destroyed.  To resurrect a country from ruins, you need a plan of action to restore it as a whole, you need some semblance of a consensus with the public.  But consensus and planning are the biggest enemies in the modern world.  And most important, countries that are distinct from other countries are unnecessary.  And they became unnecessary, not through the will of that evil George Bush, and not because Obama was held hostage by the military-industrial complex, but for the same reason that the avant-garde of all countries are indistinguishable.  Before us lies the homogeneous, gray world market – do not try to withstand its logic – you will be trampled underfoot.

When assessing operations in Iraq or Afghanistan, the claim is made that the war has not achieved its ends – the war is ongoing and is seen as a failure.  But the desired ends have indeed been achieved – which are that of a permanent state of civil strife, instability, and unrest.  If there were no war at present in Syria it would need to emerge elsewhere.  Wars can move from one country to another as easily as capital.  Executing a war is as easy as making a bank transfer – but tracing who is profiting from it is impossible.

To end war, we need to rid ourselves of this new ideology. We must not only reject economic bubbles, but we must pop the biggest and most terrible bubble of all – the ideological one. And until the West can grasp that Andy Warhol is intrinsically worse than Rembrandt, there will be no peace.
To end war, we need to rid ourselves of this new ideology. We must not only reject economic bubbles, but we must pop the biggest and most terrible bubble of all – the ideological one. And until the West can grasp that Andy Warhol is intrinsically worse than Rembrandt, there will be no peace.

While watching world leaders meet during a crisis, the naive observer is struck by the realization that world is in trouble and a plan to save it is needed, but there is no plan.  World leaders acknowledge that they have no plan – they would like to deprive bankers of their bonuses, but the bankers will not agree.  Planning is fundamentally alien to the modern world, no one even attempts to compare the budget of the oligarchy to the amount of money needed to feed the hungry.  It is precisely a lack of strategy that defines the current strategy, including the strategy of war.  The strategy is to create chaos.  Local chaos can hide behind global chaos.  Civilized countries are proud of the fact that they do not wage war, but only release bombs from a distance – let the local population then figure out the rest.  This is only a facade of irresponsibility.  Surgical strikes on specific targets do in fact accomplish the essential task – which is that the bombing plunge the country into an unmanageable state.  It must be destroyed in its entirety.  Then chaos will reign.

The reign of chaos has become the salvation of democracy.  Chaos will spawn justice – this ideological incantation has made us forget that chaos inevitably spawns Titans.  That which is described by mythology is also a truism of the historical process.  And Titans know nothing of justice.  The liberal market has chosen global civil war as a system by which to govern the world.  People have been convinced that their primary right is the right to civil war, to the idea that “each takes as much freedom as he can” – this grotesque slogan rules the world.  The crowds chant that they want change, but no protester ever reveals exactly which changes he wants – in fact, people have been led to believe that the world requires perpetual rotation; and the world is driven to a state of permanent excitement, like an addict in need of his daily fix.  More, more, more – shake the foundations of the state, rock the boat.  No interest in shaking up the state?  Does that mean you’re in favor of tyranny, a guardian of the regime?  Some things are more important than stagnation and peace!  Henceforth, war is the only way, the only desirable state of affairs for the democratic nomenklatura.

Do you know what kind of world you want to build after the war?  No, that is something no one knows.  This question is equally absurd as asking a modern avant-garde artist, “Do you know how to draw?”  Why does one need to draw if it is no longer required – nowadays everyone agrees that drawing is beside the point in graphic arts.  No one needs that type of world.

Orwell predicted that the new order would introduce the slogan, “War is peace.”

And so it happened.

One of the most prominent Rembrandt's paintings Danaë resides in the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia.
One of the most prominent Rembrandt’s paintings Danaë resides in the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia.

At issue is an endless civil war, in which no one is to blame.  War occurs because of the natural order of things, and an opposing vote in the UN is not enough to stop it – it is senseless to cast the US in the role of the world’s policeman, and even more stupid to accuse the West of self-interest.  The West became the first victim of its own democratic idea, a noble idea for which the greatest figures in Western history gave their lives and which is now being corrupted before our very eyes.  To end war, we need to rid ourselves of this new ideology, of the ideology of Ayn Rand, of the deceptions of the “second avant-garde,” and of our belief in progress and the market.  We must not only reject economic bubbles, but we must pop the biggest and most terrible bubble of all – the ideological one.  And until the West can grasp that Andy Warhol is intrinsically worse than Rembrandt, there will be no peace.

Maxim Kantor is a Moscow-based artist and essayist.

Source in Russian: Expert

Translated by ORIENTAL REVIEW with abridgements. Reposts are welcomed with reference to ORIENTAL REVIEW.

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