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April 21, 2009


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Your initial remarks about the Straussian element suddenly made me realise why I was always suspicious about George Orwell. His quote that "People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf" comes eerily close to the argument of the right-wing in your country.



It also reminds me of "A Few Good Men" -

"You don't want the truth because deep down in places you don't talk about at parties you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall. We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use then as the backbone of a life trying to defend something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom I provide and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said "thank you," and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest that you pick up a weapon and stand a post. Either way, I don't give a damn what you think you are entitled to."


Hi Jodi

I apologize for double comments but I wanted to respond to your point that "Resolution is old school - in the face of the decline of symbolic efficiency it won't work anyway..." Obama's decision not to prosecute the decision makers is a purely political calculation - it would become a political circus and the right wing media would declare it (as they did during Iran - Contra) the "politization of policy disputes."

Of course this is a load of crap but it is the reality we live in. And as to dissolving the people and creating a new one, I think that is correct. But Obama and the democrats are not going to do that unless there is a massive popular uprising. And that will only take place if the economic situation gets significantly worse.

I know that left is often guilty of predicting the worst, but I do think the current crisis may present the opportunity for real change. Events are still unfolding.


As Schmitt says (more or less), 'protego ergo obligo is the cogito ergo sum of the state.' I have no idea if Strauss's esoteric stance on ruling can be traced to this or not.



Given your views on 'the secret' and its efficacy, does this episode of spilling the secrets change your mind about anything?



On secrecy--no (or maybe a little). Although it's funny, I was asked to do a talk on secrecy this coming fall and I find myself interested in returning to it.

My basic argument has been and remains that the secret points to a dynamic/mechanism of concealment/revelation that is employed to produce a public. So, there are no actual/essential/real secrets; there are deployments of secretization/disconcealment (these change over time, function differently in different contexts).

What I think I want to do a bit more with is to deploy the RIS frame: if the Real of the secret is the way it bends/shapes a field, then what can we say about the symbolic field it opens in to (the public it produces)? This isn't trivial and I think I understated this in Publicity's Secret.

The contents of the torture documents have been widely known for a while now. What's changing is their relation to the big Other, the order of belief, no one can believe that some folks don't believe the Bush admin tortured.

Alain--I love the quote--I can just hear Nicholson saying it. On 'reality we live in'--I don't buy it; to me, that view is totally cynical, so cynical that it produces the very reality it describes rather than changes it. So, we all have to say and act and produce a better reality (political process, set of expectations, etc).

On a different note: isn't it incredible how different this is from Watergate?


Thanks Jodi. Regarding Watergate, I have been struck by the difference for the last several years. The scandalous and illegal acts of the last administration have been widely known for several years. And yet no one (or not many folks) seem all that shocked or outraged.

I know some of this has to do with the media but it is also clear evidence of what you have described as the breakdown of symbolic efficiency. When everything is politicized real politics (and perhaps the rule of law) disappears.


"My basic argument has been and remains that the secret points to a dynamic/mechanism of concealment/revelation that is employed to produce a public. So, there are no actual/essential/real secrets; there are deployments of secretization/disconcealment (these change over time, function differently in different contexts)."

Let's say the 'secret' is that Bush himself (or Cheney, more likely) authorized torture. It was used to give the CIA, among others, carte blanche, and to heighten fear and jingoism among American citizens.

With the revelation of, not yet the secret, but certain memos that can serve to indict upper level lawyers and advisors, Obama is doing what?

I think your theory would suggest that he is diffusing the libidinal energy that bound the public (a public under fear, complicitous with torture, but now 'shocked and deeply disappointed', and maybe even shamed.)

It seems like maybe the Justice Department can, more safely than before, go after Rumsfeld, Feith, Addington, Yoo and Gonzalez. That's all to the good, and yet, it could also be that by revealing not the secret (that would expose Bush/Cheney) but a different secret, the text of the memos, that the revelation of the memos authorizes a scapegoating function, a purification ritual.

But this is still bait and switch. Sure we want Rumsfeld et al., but we want more, and the energy is itself evidence that more is there to be had. (Or, the secret can't contain the public it puts into motion.)

The energy behind the Secret (that torture was authorized at the very top) will remain, invigorating its public, until it is revealed, until we get Monica's dress, I mean, until we get proof positive of Bush and Cheney's signature in blood.

(Do you have in mind a typology, where some kinds of secrets lend themselves to sacrificial logics, but other kinds not?)

I haven't read your book for a while, but I have the recollection that once the secret is revealed, you say it loses its fascination, and the public dissipates (since it was never real to begin with, its life was relational to its supposed lack).

With the torture secrets revealed, or some of them, we get maybe a shift from the charismatic secret to bureaucratization. Due process takes over. Boring, maybe, but thank goodness for it, no?


In the process fascination-revelation-unfastening-dissipation the primary problem is the lack of energy/attention to what comes after the revelation, to mobilizing, prosecuting, etc. Most of the weight of the process, then, is on the first two moments.

In contemporary settings, secrecy and publicity are two sides of the same coin; the fact of massive, intensive, circulating publicity renders any particular item a secret to those who don't know it; dumping more secrets adds to the glut, as well as the sense that we don't know everything; as I see it, the sense that 'there is more to know, we need to know more' is both obviously true and politically false as it covers over the actual lack of a impetus to act, one might even say the lack of a will.

So, I think of the secret as containing energy in the sense of blocking it, covering over it's lack; if there is energy/outrage pushing the torture discussion right now (and I'm not sure there is in a large sense) then (and this is the best we can hope for) it will dissipate not with more revelation--we already know they discussed and approved torture in the WH--but with prosecution. It's not about the secret--it's about what comes next.


The 'what comes next' is a major problem - many, although not all, truth commissions (for instance) also come with amnesty for the accused. Apparently being allowed to cry in public and have your tears recorded is a retroactive licence for your tormentor.

Wilson's "The Politics of Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa" was good on this: the whole enterprise, in the name of efficiency, was captured by bureaucrats and consultants.


Truth commissions are for those who don't already have an appropriate legal system in place. The thing is, with regard to torture the US does--it's illegal.


Canada has an Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Committee with a five year mandate that began in 2008. I don't think the public sessions have taken place yet, though.


"Truth commissions are for those who don't already have an appropriate legal system in place."

Very interesting.

I wonder if, too, truth commissions are appropriate when legal norms are unclear, or when legal norms are in competition with other norms and we (of course, who is "we" here?) simply don't want legal norms to prevail.

If we don't want a legal victory but we do want a moral victory, are truth commissions the way to go? (And I'd like to separate that question from "If we CAN'T get a legal victory . . . .")

I have some military men in my class right now, and while they're fully cognizant of the nature of an "unlawful order," they don't want to actually go after the civilian leadership.

Do we need something like "soft justice" which stands outside of normal judicial practice and punishment -- or, should we take the hard line, and say that "soft justice" is really for failed states or corrupt states?


soft justice by your description extends the state of exception--this doesn't seem to be any justice at all, then

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