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October 11, 2005


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I'm not sure about the analogy. In so far as race politics was a disavowed mode of class politics for Nazism, then race politics (fanatical anti-semitism) was ideological. Nazi racial theories clearly had no basis or ground anywhere except this displaced politics of class.

On the other hand, class domination (a word I'll substitute, for obvious reasons, for your "hegemony") is clearly not ficticious in this same way. It has a ground other than simply a displaced politics of race.

Perhaps, however, you're saying a third thing: that in modernity (Nazism) ideology served as cover; whereas it postmodernity (neoconservatism) it is ideology itself that has to be hidden. Which is suitably perverse (in the Zizekian mode).


Thanks for the comment. So, right, class domination is not a displaced politics of race. Class domination is real (probably Real, but I don't want to go there quite yet). But, class domination might be ideologically acceptable, hegemonic, precisely insofar as it relies on racism (when I write this it seems pretty uncontroversial, no?). So, it has to keep its racism 'secret' (at least as an open secret; they can't say 'give tax breaks to white people' but they can say 'give tax breaks to the rich).

That something is Real (class antagonism) doesn't mean it can't be displaced or can't operate in the mode of a lie (the utility of the domination of the rich; trickle down economics). So, yes, contemporary US class domination is not ficitious 'in the same way' as Nazi racism (there is a Real core). It's an inverted version.

I'm not sure about your last paragraph. I think both versions rely on condensation and displacement. So, Nazis condense class antagonisms and displace them onto the Jews. From within the mobilized Reich, one can't see class division; there is one state that needs to be pure. The Bush version can see class division, rule of the wealthy; but it can't really see or acknowledged racial division. Racial antagonism is condensed and displaced onto the poor.

Does that work? (I appreciate your criticism on this--if it doesn't work, I'll drop it, try another angle ...)

John S. Ransom

Hi Jodi, may I throw in something here on political correctness? If you go here:


You'll see an article on 'why intelligent design must be stopped.'

In that article, the author writes:

"For several decades the philosophical ground has been softened up by the relativism and political correctness of the secular left, which succeeded in undermining the very idea of objective reality and of calling a spade a spade—so now, in the resulting marsh, fantasies like intelligent design (or Scientology or feng shui or 9/11 as a CIA plot) take root and spread like weeds. Liberals pioneered squishy-minded indulgence of their key constituencies’ unfortunate new ideas, like reparations and criminalized hate speech; now it’s the right’s turn."

In an e-mail to the author, I wrote:

The above argument won't work. Or rather the 'agent' is misidentified. It's not as if the 'secular left' went around doing all these things. Rather, the secular left was merely the executor of a will that is found elsewhere.

Let me illustrate the point this way. You complain about political correctness -- a shamefully easy thing to do. You are the eight hundred millionth person to do so. But like your predecessors you refuse to take it seriously, as it is not in your interests to do so. And this is done in the name of 'objective truth'! Really incredible.

Let's say you are a woman in 1960s America. Lots of people refer to you as a 'chick.' But it turns out that this is not just some endearment, but rather a fairly active and systematic way of devaluing the thoughts and aspirations of women. The term 'chick' is not unreasonably linked to a whole series of restrictions that women face in the work force, just to name one context. One's chickness is institutionalized. Those who do not carry around this 'sign' around their neck are benefited; those with it are disadvantaged (in particular ways).

But you're an intelligent young person with serious ambitions and you do not like being stereotyped in this way. And so you object! Not just to the institutional stuff like glass ceilings, but also to more 'accepted' characterizations that seem completely innocent to many. Such as 'chick.' If enough people are convinced that there is a link between how language is used and how institutions treat people, they will not only strive to reform the institutions, but also to reform the way they speak. And that is completely and utterly reasonable. We shouldn't refer to women as 'chicks,' especially if that is part of an environment that makes it impossible for them to pursue their ambitions.

News flash: political correctness has been a massive source of (a certain kind of) good. I'm a college professor and every year I meet the parents of students who are hoping for great things from their child or children. And there are lots of times when this child is a woman. A lot of the parents are Republicans -- no doubt about it. But if anyone told them that their female child should really think more about children or proms than they do about academics, they would go ballistic. A wonderful thing: a huge release of human creativity and potential. We owe it all to political correctness, which does not allow us, anymore, to pigeon-hole women in submissive roles. (Not that said parents wouldn't be thrilled if their child *chose* to devote herself to raising children, either now or later.)

Now, the above is an example of values 'shifting.' The above is an example of truth 'transforming.' Conclusion: it is not the fault of secular leftists or postmodernists that the notion of truth has become more plastic.

On the contrary. The concept of truth became more elastic -- and *then* postmodernists and secular leftists started writing and thinking about it. Criticizing them is blaming the messenger.

Postmodernists didn't soften up the philosophical field and as a result provide openings for the conservatives. Rather, the philosophical field (which is not under the exclusive control of any author, including Derrida) shifted, and both leftists and now conservatives -- a bit late as always -- are trying to adapt to it.


John--I love this letter! Did the guy respond? I'm guessing not...


Jodi, as I wanted to keep this thought somewhere easily accessible (for me), I wrote it up over at Posthegemonic Musings: http://posthegemony.blogspot.com/2005/10/inversion.html.


Isn't the secret of the celebration of wealth in the US the fact that many more people imagine themselves to be wealthy than are wealthy?

So, for example, no one wants to believe they will be (or are) in a position to be threatened by cuts to welfare, while everyone wants to believe that they will have a substantial estate to pass on to their children.

Or even if people don't really believe these things, they are used to enjoying the benefits of wealth through the rich and the celebrities. (And this is exactly the hidden logic of trickle-down economics, the thing that allows it to seize people's imagination even though it doesn't make any eceonomic sense.)

I don't know, maybe this kind of "false consciousness" argument is a bit of a cliche, but I think it gives an explanation of the way that class politics operates (which I don't think is really "open and obvious").



It's an empirical question whether people imagine themselves as wealthy or as having something to pass down; and, it's also an empirical question whether this factors into their voting. The Nation recently linked to a paper given at the American Political Science Association Annual Meeting that used various sorts of polls and statistical analyses on the 2004 election to dispute Thomas Frank's contentions in What's the Matter with Kansas. I can't recall if there was any data on these questions. I do know that there is data on intergenerational poverty--this is greater than it was in the 20 year period after WWII. But, I just can't accept that 'everyone' believes they will have an estate. More convincing to me is that this was not a factor in voting, that it was a factor for rich lobbyists and campaign contributors.

On enjoying the wealth of others: I think that's a very cool reading of what we might call the libidinal underpinning or fantastic supplement to trickle down economics. Whatever people think, we know that they watch television shows about rich people and buy magazines celebrating the extravagances of the rich. These factors suggest ideology in practice (so, you don't even need to worry about a false consciousness argument, even if people know full well that they aren't rich and that the good life of the rich is something they will never see, one might say that they act as if they did not have this knowledge).

Kenneth Rufo

It might also be a question of identification, in that they do not identify with their class actuality, but rather with the consumerist american dream, and they feel a guilty sort of pride knowing that when we celebrate the richest in the world, those people call their home America, the would-be land of opportunity.

I wonder if a peripheral issue here isn't that class itself, however real its taxonomy, provides a difficult fulcrum around which to antagonize capitalism, since the class divisions are produced (even necessitated) from within the logical tenets of capitalism, and are thus constitutive of it. In Laclau's terms, concepts like "class" and "class struggle" have become theoretical "fetishes disposessed of any precise meaning." Given this failure - probably a necessary one - the theoretical fetishization of class ends up circling around and becoming the general fetishization of high-class, ultra-rich, conspicuous consumption and leisure, the kind only available to those people living in (places like) Laguna Beach and Trump Tower.

Once you can offer up this fetish - and it does provide good televisual images, rich in the object of desire - there's no reason it can't be used to trump race as an antagonism.


Kenneth, really interesting point. What I'm trying to figure out for myself here is whether I can have my cake and eat it, too. That is, I want to recognize 'class struggle' as a fundamental antagonism (in an orthodox Zizekian sense). Yet, as a fundamental antagonism, class struggle will be manifest, realized, in different ways (as sexual difference is, for example; this is the meaning of 'there is no sexual relationship'). So, to this end, I want to see how the specific trauma of the American experience has resulted in a situation wherein class can function fetishistically. In fact, I think your introduction of fetishism here is really useful and helps make the point more clearly.


Hi Jodi--

So, perhaps part of what you're saying is "There is no class struggle."

Actually, that seems to me to condense a lot of what we're talking about: on the one hand, if your read that sentence "from the Right" then it explains how the Right is free to talk about poor people, because the ideology of the Right papers over the fundamental antagonism.

But the sentence can also be read as testifying to the Reality of class antagonism: it is too Real to appear within the symbolic of class struggle.

It can also be read pessimistically from the Left, as describing a purely contingent fact of the disarray of the forces on the Left.

Finally (perhaps) it can be read optimistically as opening up a space within which the fundamental antagonism can be worked out (as in the "sexual relation" example).

Patrick J. Mullins

I couldn't follow much of this. The right doesn't talk about poor people; it only did that during the brief Katrina period. They've already stopped except to cut back Medicaid and make sure the fewest benefits are given and the greatest tax cuts for the rich deployed. In fact, the left rarely talked about poor people either, because they'd been outmoded by economic realities; everybody had to see a whole lot of them, big crowds of them to remember that it was once an issue. Right and left alike were cutting their losses and hoping that at least the middle class could keep a little health insurance a little while longer, etc.

The trickle-down thing outside as well as inside economics makes sense, though, because this is something people don't know how not to do. It brings up another question: How did the vapidity start being fetishized? because wealth is of a much cruder and meaner style than it used to be. That seems to indicate that wealth as an esthetic in itself is now more powerful than it was even in the past--when there was more choice in modes of expensive commodities. Obviously, there was always an appeal for many for 'the most expensive thing', but that seems to have increased to the point that the most expensive thing has much more often become the determining factor in choice. This hypnosis around all forms of wealth, while taking out all the other aspects of rich things--which might be frivolous, but there still might be some discrimination among the frivolities. So people read these magazines and watch these television shows about these 'lifestyles,' that hatefully idiotic term. You cannot find a single example among them that has any aura other than 'expensive' about it. 'Expensive' is the dominant esthetic now, whereas expensive used to include such outmoded and tacky matters as elegance, grace, taste, you know, all those dispensible things. The closest thing those emanating the 'expensive esthetic' that has anything to it is Martha Stewart, a slight exception only because we know that she can actually do all those craftsy things, even if they don't appeal to us (they don't to me, but going to prison while rich is vaguely human I guess, and doing some 'mom's meatloaf' on a show may be a bit more than just what government contracts to rebuild Iraq and New Orleans amount to (and this is just too depressing if Martha Stewart seems the least horrible.)

Patrick J. Mullins

Yeah, there might be something of a trickle-up thing in terms of the symbols of wealth in 21st century. Trash and middle-class taste has trickled up, which confuses people who didn't get any money when that was supposed to trickle down--and advertising agencies know how to make sure the effect stays the same: If you give off the same middle-class symbols but price them as if they were the same as the old aristocratic models, you can get a huge audience that will be interested in the sense of unaffordability and inaccesibility combined with familiarity--like Bill and Melinda Gates 'proving' in so many little ways that they are like you and me, but especially just like anyone nearby in Seattle who doesn't have the money. New camouflages. You now have aol stories on the lists of richest (wonderful to no longer have aol; I now have gone 4 months without hearing about Jennifer Lopez) Walmart trash 'lifestyles,' you no longer have a single movie star who is set apart in any way remotely as in the past (although you have fine actors, etc.), you have mainly middle-class taste now marketed as upper-class. Real upper-class is very small and amounts to anachronistic curios like various European royal families, all of whom are encouraged and warned to modernize. Costly travel is all about how to bring sterilized American environments to foreign places and take the occasional peak out from behind multi-thousand-a-night resorts. The very rich are very careful not to seem rich a lot more than they used to be. Alterations are occurring at all levels.

I actually think race is almost too esthetic a matter to be as serious as you are claiming it is, except maybe temporarily. How could the esthetic of racial difference matter as much as it used to compared to the dull, professional and relentless pursuit by dull, professional and ruthless ugly shrewd people to just acquire more expensive things which don't any longer need to be an aesthetic matter at all. Isn't it possible that the disavowal of racism is because that's who the large numbers of poor are, but it would be 'inefficient' more than anything else to talk about racism, which still, as Atwater said, is a byproduct of the fact that it's only a matter of wealth accumulation. If they were to actually talk about racism, they would have their capitalistic project interrupted by people who are still concerned with matters of the human being, all of which are somehow esthetic, and even have the gall to be about matters of the heart (feeling! how embarassing to be caught doing it!); and the idea is just to get those money things done as quickly as possible. I actually don't see how they care that much about the racism any more themselves because they wouldn't have the sensibilities to appreciate race, it would seem a comparatively silly and outmoded thing, interesting only to people who still had their minds on something besides the baseball and the business. So that 'the winners' we have now as paragons of the Good Life do steal everything but if you just take a look at them you see these mechanized things that are one-dimensional in their pale characterlessness. It could be true that this very characterlessness does feel threatened by the characterfulness of poor blacks in particular, but again I would think it is primarily threatened by anything characterful, because what is valued now is not characterful. How could their be any turning it back, even if their is a momentary fall of this administration, with attendant phenomena like Delay actually losing again the power he's already gotten back in the last 2 weeks.


I've been in and out and now find it hard to do justice to the comments. I'll just add a couple of things:

Hugh: I like you version of the variations on what 'there is no class struggle' means/can mean. I think it is said very well.

Patrick: I think that the prevailing understanding of economic life changed in the late 70s; at this point, various elements of the compromise (accomodation/sell out) between labor and capital after WWII fell apart and the race for extreme wealth began anew. Even the ideal of a war on poverty became unimaginable, the product of an odd, distant history. The aesthetics use describe, it seems to me, are elements of that ideological turn.

I also think that an 'aesthetics of racial difference' is a kind of exoticization that isolates beauty from its context of oppression and violence not unlike the celebration of the female nude in the art recognized as classical by museums and art historians. This aestheticization relied on disavowing the very material conditions that made it possible.

Patrick J. Mullins

'an 'aesthetics of racial difference' is a kind of exoticization that isolates beauty from its context of oppression and violence'

Not nearly always. I had something in mind much more like the difference in the sexes and the differences in heterosexuality and homosexuality that gays and Lesbians actually pride themselves on. There can be both difference and sameness coexisting. The differences in the races will have to be something worth celebrating before racism ceases. It is not possible to have racism without race, and not possible to get rid of racism's worst attributes without seeing that differences in all forms of culture, whether racial, nationalistic and the others have to be accepted for there to be respect. There can't be any other alternative but to get rid of race itself completely, or to understand how to manage racism--which sounds harder to hope for however more desirable. It's not possible to get rid of all racism without getting rid of race. Even the balkanization that occurred in the early 90's in the former Yugoslavia proved that blood ties are what most people go back to, whether or not that's ideal.

Anyway, I was not even talking about that. I was talking about how the current wealthy ruling class of America is going to feel threatened only secondarily by the different aspects of race that they refuse to accommodate in themselves. They are not even up to the level of 'exoticization' that is like that of the tourist I think you were talking about. It's more related to the way all the defendants in Kafka's 'the Trial' were 'attractive.' I had not thought of anything like that before I read that book. However, I still think they want to deal with it in the most efficient way, and even though the racism is there for whatever reason, there is no appeal to deal with obliterating what they consider to be threatening them in the form of admitting to racism. Of course, that's proof of their racism, but I don't think they'd care if it was all poor white people either--since they're going to get to go under too, even if fewer.


I have a too quick response and will try to do better later; it's on the theme of differences and I'll reject categories like gay or lesbian (just as I will race) in favor of ideas of 'heterosexualization/familization' and 'racialization.'

So, if I start unforgivably simply: production and reproduction require others, that is cooperation. But, others are a pain, likely undesirable and hard to work with. There are many things more fun to do, like sex and play. So, forms of heterosexualization and racialization enforce who can be an acceptable sex partner and under what conditions, and with whom we can work and ally and under what conditions. So, in my view, the fundamental antagonisms could be explained as 'there is no sexual relationship' and 'class struggle/or there is no class struggle' with heterosexualization and racialization specific mechanisms for enforcing/managing these antagonisms.

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