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NEW APPROACHES FOR UNDERSTANDING “AUTHORITARIAN CAPITALISM”

There is no one explanation for exhaustively investigating or understanding political authoritarianism in relation to capitalism. As the above studies reveal, this is a multi-faceted issue that demands a wide array of perspectives and explanations. Globalization only adds to the complexity of this problem. Called for are perspectives that illuminate the deeper structural relation of capitalism to political authoritarianism as well as the historically specific ways such a politics is serving to legitimize and support global capitalism. To do so requires a theoretical framework that ably combines both structural and post-structural approaches. This would enable an investigation, at once general in its explanation and respecting of contextual differences, simultaneously into how economic liberalization catalyzes political authoritarianism and political authoritarianism discursively strengthens economic liberalization.

For this reason, it is imperative to study not only the material economy of globalization but its discursive and psychic economy as well. At stake is illuminating what types of subjects global capitalism is currently producing both in its generalizable practices and its shared identifications. This book draws, therefore, on an ideology and discourse approach for studying the current relation of political authoritarianism and economic liberalization. This perspective focuses on the role of dominant discourses for structuring social relations and identity according to its understandings (Laclau and Mouffe, 1986). Emphasized is the ability for a prevailing set of beliefs, understandings and values to organize a field of meaning according to its own rationale and logic. Howarth (2000: 102) describes a hegemonic project thus as one which strives to “weave together different strands of discourse in an effort to dominate or structure a field of meaning, thus fixing the identities of objects and practices in a particular way.”

Hegemony is also reinforced at the affective level, as a dominant discourse psychologically “grips” subjects according to its constructed desires. The Lacanian concept of fantasy, employed by a number of Laclauian commentators (see especially Glynos and Stavrakakis, 2004), is key for understanding this process. Fantasy is defined as “the element which holds together a given community [that] cannot be reduced to the point of symbolic identification” (Zizek, 1993: 201). As such:

the bonds linking together its members always implies a shared relationship to the Thing, toward enjoyment incarnated ... If we are asked how we can recognise the presence of this Thing, the only consistent answer is that the Thing is present in that elusive entity called our “way of life.” (ibid.)

Social identity is consequently formed around common fantasies promising shared wholeness, ideals regarding a potential “way of life” to be captured and strived toward. All social and political identity thus, to quote Stavrakakis, “is supported by a reference to a lost state of harmony, unity and fullness, a reference to a pre-symbolic Real which most political projects aspire to bring back” (Stavrakakis, 1999). Liberal democracy, for example, is not just a set of principles citizens rationally accept as correct. It is, additionally, a fantasy; seizing subjects psychologically in its utopian vision of a perfected and perfectible society based on reified values of freedom, individualism, collective self-determination and shared prosperity.

Importantly these fantasies have a dualistic structure. On the one hand they are sustained through reference to a positive “stabilizing” fantasy, as referred to in the examples above. On the other hand, these beatific visions are constantly placed under threat by the presence of a negative “destabilizing” fantasy. Returning to the example of liberal democracy, it is a politics that while often utopian in its sentiment and aims is nonetheless often desperately partisan and antagonistic in its actual politics. Conservatives imagine Liberals maliciously trying to prevent their vision of an idealized Christian market society from materializing while Liberals similarly demonize the evangelical Right for supposedly stopping a secular fairer market economy. Consequently, all hegemony is marked by the appearance of a utopian fantasy promising wholeness linked to a malevolent fantasy trying to prevent such enjoyment from ever coming to pass.

This work examines how a market ideology in a particular historical context - in this case contemporary globalization - is politically supported by cultural fantasies. More precisely, it aims to show how political authoritarianism has arisen as a diverse but nonetheless common political fantasy for legitimizing and strengthening economic capitalism globally. These efforts resonate with the various ways historically the state has attempted to promote itself as a sovereign actor able to effectively “guide” markets. These previous efforts may seem to have become outdated due to the “free market” neoliberal ideologies of the past several decades leading up to and continuing into the twenty-first century. Nevertheless, the goal of this book is to illuminate the ways this sovereign-based fantasy has arisen once again in this era of corporate globalization, attached to particular resurgent authoritarian values politically. A question that must be asked, thus, is how politics is a central and vital element to the contemporary global spread of neoliberalism?

 
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