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The Coming Alternatives and The Function of the Enemy

by Jacob Augstein and Gotz Eisenberg Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014 at 12:12 PM

Future criticism of capitalism is not a taboo any more. Why is there so little resistance against capitalism. Capitalism is a secular religion... Thanks to ISIS, "we" can forget all the other problems. If an enemy disappears, the possibility of shifting our conflict to it also fades.


By Jacob Augstein

[This article published on 9/25/2014 is translated from the German on the Internet, Jacob Augstein is an author and editor of]

Future criticism of capitalism is not a taboo any more today. However contradiction often only brings a shaking of heads. This must change.

Why is there so little resistance against capitalism? Why does resistance fizzle out so quickly? Is a revolution still possible?

Frank Schirrmacher, editor of the Frankfurter Allgemeiner Zeitung newspaper, said: “A decade of this deregulated financial market economy turns out to be the most successful re-socialization program of leftist social criticism.” The word “capitalism” can be used again even outside the leftist niche. The theme can be given a name again. Suddenly everyone remembers that Marx taught the history of capitalism is the history of its crises.

If someone sat down and cried at the marketplace years ago that capitalism cannot continue, people would have walked away shaking their heads or the police would have been called if the crier had shouted loudly. Who would oppose such a speaker today? Still contradiction triggers the shaking of heads and then people pass over to the day’s agenda. That is still the neoliberal reflex.

The economics section that will be expanded at Freitag will not change anything. But we could try to recognize a challenge that many other newspapers repress or do not worry about, seeing alternatives. The first dogma of neoliberalism – there is no alternative – is only a dogma or an ideology but a very effective dogma. It immobilizes thinking and praxis. Thinking in alternatives is essential democratic praxis. Neoliberalism breaks or cures us of this ability. This is dangerous. The system changes to the logic of permanent emergency: like inner security, economic security is also defended against democracy. Resisting dangers has top priority. Soon we may not afford democracy any more as civil rights become less and less affordable to us now.

The US political scientist Wendy Brown wrote: “The great democracies today are characterized more by a merging of political and entrepreneurial power than by an overlapping. Political tasks from schools and prisons to the military are outsourced on a large scale. Investment bankers and CEOs act as ministers and state secretaries even if they do not themselves manage or invest the funds. States are owners of unimaginably great amounts of financial capital. Executive power over its tax-, environmental-, energy-, labor-, social-, financial- and economic policy and an endless stream of direct supports and bailout programs for whole realms of capital are harnessed very openly in the project of capital accumulation. The broad mass, the Demos, cannot understand or fathom most of these developments, much less fight them and oppose them with other goals.”


Capitalism is a secular religion. That is not a new observation. Whoever questions or challenges the capitalist clergy, the banks and corporations, violates a taboo and will be punished like a sinner. When the economist Jeremy Rifkin absorbed with the “collaborative Commons,” the new forms of economics could render superfluous capitalism as we know it or when the philosopher Antonio Negri sings the hymn of the “multitude,” the interconnected protest- and revolution multitude that can turn upside down the capitalist empire, this is either not a theme or a theme for the arts section in most newspapers.

But this is too little. There are so many questions: Why is neoliberal rule so stable? Why is there so little resistance? Why does resistance fizzle out so quickly? Is a revolution still possible? Gunter Gaus, the former editor of Freitag, said in a conversation with Alexander Kluge: “Social questions cannot be answered for all times.” That is a simple and very wise thought.


By Gotz Eisenberg

[This article published on September 30, 2014 is translated from the German on the Internet,]

Divided, crisis-ridden societies need an external enemy so a great “we” can arise above the ordeals. “If you have no enemy anymore, look in the mirror,” Heiner Mueller remarked sarcastically. Who wants that? The position of enemy was vacant for a long time after the downfall of the “eastern bloc.” Since September 11, 2001, this function was taken over by the “Islamic terror.”

I heard a Saturday afternoon WDR2 radio broadcast on a car trip through the North Rhine Westphalia region. Incessant reports were aired on the battle against the ISIS militias… Events are simply broadcast without comment about the fanatical, obsessed and wrong-headed ISIS militias. War is also waged linguistically. A brutalization of language prepares the ground for our readiness to accept and agree with a belligerent solution of conflicts. What should be expected when President Obama speaks of ISIS as a “cancer” “devastating the whole Moslem world”?

In the weekend edition of the Sueddeutschen Zeitung newspaper, Adrian Kreye emphasized such metaphors are known from NS-history. They lead into the middle of the atrocity of genocide which is presented as a rescuing act or surgical operation to save the healthy body of the community of nations.

“The evil” assumes form and comes over us as a plague like Ebola, the Lisbon earthquake or terror. The motives of the ISIS fighters and the social causes of fundamentalism are not explained anywhere. A great “we” arises over the crisis-ridden societies of the West in the battle against the militant God-warriors of ISIS. Even the stand-in rogue Putin and the Ukraine conflict fade and take a back seat. Thanks to ISIS, “we” can forget all the other problems.

This is not amazing. A spirit created by the West and released from the bottle now unites all of us in the struggle against it. Islamophobic attitudes spread like a raging fire in the shadows of this new anti-terror struggle. On Sunday night, Gunter Jauch gave an example for that. At last we have an enemy again!

“After the victory, one has to deal with oneself,” Tocqueville said. One seeks desperately for a new adversary. The difficulty of identifying a robust political enemy behind the fog wall of diffuse threats is one of the reasons aggressions detonate more and more blindly and aimlessly. Modern nation states are less and less able to identify a concrete central danger in the form of an enemy or distinguish legitimate and illegitimate fears and carry out corresponding loyalty exercises. Since the division between East and West does not exist any more and no hostile bloc can be identified to blame for our unhappiness, the enemy is multiplied in a multitude of small and intermediate Satans who can appear in all possible forms and figures. “World communism” was the enemy that would have had to be invented if it did not exist – an enemy whose strength justified the defense economy and the mobilization of the people in the national interest so inner capitalist conflicts and tensions could be repressed.

Earlier the enemy was in the East. Today the enemy lurks everywhere. In the time of the so-called Cold War, personal fears of breakdown and family dramas were easily transferred to the East-West conflict and expressed and spelled out in its terms. A political détente can have the opposite mental consequences. If an enemy disappears through détente or capitulation, the possibility of shifting one’s conflict to it also fades. The picture of “evil” presented to us in the form of the respective scapegoat is the best vessel for all possible feelings of threat and insecurity. We could be handed over to them if we did not have the respective “enemy of the season” enabling us to shift our diffuse fears, concretize this and calm ourselves in the struggle against the supposed source of fear. “We are doing something to remove the evil” is the message proclaimed by Obama. Now we are dropping bombs again. We are too cowardly to meet ISIS fighters on the ground, face them and look in their eyes. We solve problems from the air and do not get our hands and uniforms bloody. We leave the battle on the ground to the Kurdish Poschmerga militias to whom we send weapons. For a long time, the Kurds were the epitome of the terrible. Now they are suddenly the representatives of the good and our brave vanguard.

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