A new interview with Simon Critchley, who has recently been doing some very interesting work on the relationship between ethics, resistance, and politics.
A couple of interesting parts:
AG: I know you don’t always agree with Chantal Mouffe, but would you concur with her assessment that this motivational deficit has helped cause the current rise of the populist neo-right?
SC: Yes, it has. I mean, I agree with Chantal in many ways in terms of political diagnosis and I agree with her critique of liberalism. I disagree about her political agenda, in particular the way she wants to deprive it of any ethical motivation. For me, there has to be an ethico-political core to any notion of political practice. What’s wrong with someone like Chantal is a hypnotized fascination with figures like Carl Schmitt, who seems to be doing real politics. For me, there are problems with that, but the diagnosis I agree with. The populist right is growing all around in Europe. I have a part time job at the University of Tilburg in the Netherlands and I have been experiencing that close up. This is particularly frightening, because you have a demotivation on the political level which is producing a populist reaction centered around immigration and the meaning of “Dutchness.”
So, that’s the diagnosis and then I’m continually suspicious of the “gifts” of liberal democracy, freedom and voting, which people seem to identify with democracy, which has never been particularly plausible to me. And, you know, talk of a liberal cosmopolitan order sort of makes me want to vomit. I’m also very suspicious of Obama and I’ve been critical of him since before he was elected and during the campaign, because he’s not what he appears to be to some people on the left.
AG: Perhaps you could say something about the notion of a distance to the state, which is important to you. Why is such a distance necessary – why not just take power, for example?
SC: Let me start with this thought: there is no distance from the state. The state is far from having withered away, as Marx hoped for or as certain libertarians imagine. If we could do away with the state in the manner of classical anarchism, maybe that would be great and maybe that is conceivable in certain contexts, but I would argue that the time is not necessarily ripe for that now. On the contrary, the state has become much more pervasive, in terms of its political and bio-political regulation of human life. This is a fact. The linking of that to corporate capitalism is a fact. In a sense, there is no distance – every space is visible and controlled. Therefore, distance is not something you can take or take up, it has to be created. So the idea I have here, is that in a state form that is oppressive, political creation or imagination should be mobilized in a way that allows some new space to become visible. In “Infinitely Demanding,” I talk about the politics of the sans-papiers in France, as well as Mexican indigenous people, because there you have groups which comes into visibility through a certain act of political articulation. They come into visibility as something that is at a distance to the state, actually has rights enshrined by a labor convention, but those rights are not recognized and then a political struggle begins. I think politics is at its most noble about the articulation of this interstitial distance. The civil rights movement in the US was another example of that, where something obscene or invisible enters into visibility in a new way that exerts a pressure on the state, which forces recognition. That’s the business of politics, as I see it.