FANTASIZING AUTHORITARIAN CAPITALISM
As discussed, despite rhetoric of the “free market,” the state has always had an important role within a capitalist economy. From its beginning in the nineteenth-century industrial revolution, private enterprise required huge amounts of public investment. Moving forward into the twentieth century, continued capitalist growth depended on state-funded infrastructure building and tax collection. Socially, a strong government presence was historically necessary to “regulate” employment relations in support of ownership and profit.
The state, hence, has had a significant and arguably necessary structural role in economically and socially reinforcing capitalism. Yet it has also featured prominently in its affective or psychic economy. Capitalist fantasies routinely drew upon the fundamentality of the state and sovereign power politically. Initially, this meant, for instance, a Victorian parliamentary government who could properly “morally order” society to reflect new capitalist values (Habermas, 1991; Weber, 1998). However, this soon transformed into competing promises of how the state could guarantee capitalist prosperity. Such fantasmatic claims ranged from conservative appeals to strong national defense abroad and capitalist freedom at home to the liberal championing of an interventionist state able to guide the market toward socially just ends. What these seemingly competing affective discourses share is a belief in the state’s role for creating a more perfect market society and citizen.
These sovereign-based capitalist fantasies could and often did turn into explicitly politically authoritarian discourses. Here the state became a legitimated force for policing society for its own protection. Within established liberal democracies this authoritarian impulse was witnessed in its common need to identify and eliminate an enemy, whether it be “immigrants” (Cacho, 2000; Comaroff and Comaraff, 2002; Demo, 2005), “welfare cheats” (Enck-Wanzer, 2011; Zernike, 2010), “communists” (Epstein, 1994; Heale, 1990), or “Muslim terrorists” (Clarke, 2008; Jackson, 2007; Qureshi and Sells, 2013). Present was a type of authoritarian capitalism, whereby the state had the duty and the right to protect a “free” market society and its people from internal and external threats (Bloom, 2014).
Theoretically, such an authoritarian capitalist politics reflects the dualistic character of fantasy. As mentioned in the previous chapter, fantasies are composed of a positive and negative element. As Zizek explains:
On the one hand, fantasy has a beatific side, a stabilizing dimension, which is governed by the dream of a state without disturbances, out of reach of human depravity. On the other hand, fantasy has a destabilizing dimension, whose elementary form is envy. It encompasses all that “irritates” me about the Other, images that haunt me about what he or she is doing when out of my sight, about how he or she deceives me and plots against me, about how he or she ignores me and indulges in an enjoyment that is intensive beyond my capacity of representations, etc. (Zizek, 1998: 192)
The demonization of the Jews by the Nazis is a classic example of this construction of a malicious other as part of destabilizing negative fantasy. Returning again to Zizek:
[f]ar from being the positive cause of social antagonism, the “Jew” is just the embodiment of a certain blockage - of the impossibility which prevents the society from achieving its full identity as a closed, homogenous totality ... Society is not prevented from achieving its full identity because of Jews: it is prevented by its own antagonistic nature, by its own immanent blockage, and it “projects” this internal negativity into the figure of the “Jew”. In other words, what is excluded from the symbolic (from the frame of the corporatist socio-symbolic order) returns in the Real as a paranoid construction of the “Jew”. (Zizek, 1989: 127)
In this respect, the positive fantasy of capitalism, the appeal to a harmonious and prosperous market society, is challenged by a “malicious” enemy seeking to “rob” individuals of this utopian capitalist promise.
Identity is secured in this ever-evolving but stable affective drama between capitalism and its enemies. To this end:
managerialistic ideology is - unlike many other ideologies - primarily not about a better and promising future, but about a bad and dangerous present. It aims at putting people in a permanent state of fear, alertness, and worries to lose what they have got. The “enemy outside” becomes an “enemy in people’s heads”. Since the proponents of managerialism and new public management obviously put a lot of effort into “scaring people into it” it seems that even they are not very convinced of the attractiveness of their ideology. (Diefen- bach, 2007: 129)
This ongoing fantasmatic struggle produces the conditions for political authoritarianism, granting the state an ongoing legitimization to assume the power necessary to combat these “evil” forces.
By contrast, capitalism has commonly relied on a positive fantasy emphasizing simultaneously shared prosperity and values of individual freedom. Tellingly, a central feature of these beatific visions is the reification of sovereign power. Indeed, this positive fantasy has historically appealed to ideals of personal and national sovereignty. An enduring contradiction of capitalism, is that while it usually demands conformity in practice - seen in the regulation of individuals to be, for instance, “model employees” - at the level of discourse it extols the values of personal freedom and autonomy. To this end, it constructs each individual as their own sovereign, at least rhetorically, personally responsible for their own destinies. Analogously, it highlights the power of sovereignty for influencing and at points ultimately guiding a complex market economy in order to realize desired social and political goals.
This affective capitalist identification is commonly translated into shared desires for an “ideal leader.” Within the workplace, this desire for a perfect sovereign is captured in ongoing parodies of “bad bosses” and the underlying wish by employees to be managed competently. Similarly, the continual depiction of the “bumbling” public leader - for example, Bush - demonstrates a deep wish for a powerful sovereign who can effectively navigate global dangers and economic uncertainties for the good of the country (Bloom, 2014). At the base of these longings is a positive fantasy of a strong sovereign, able to shape and guide an often complex and seemingly inhuman capitalist society. These feelings of disempowerment help to produce and strengthen an appealing fantasy of authoritarian capitalism.