A Conjuration of Imbeciles

Jean Baudrillard

Two situations, both critical and insoluble. One is the total worthlessness of contemporary art. The other is the impotence of the political class in front of Le Pen. The two situations are exchangeable, and their solutions are transferable. Indeed, the inability to offer any political alternative to Le Pen is displaced to the cultural terrain, to the domain where a Holy Cultural Alliance prevails. Conversely, the problematization of contemporary art can only come from a reactionary, irrational, or even fascist mode of thinking.

What can we oppose to such a dignified conjuration of imbeciles? Nothing. There is unfortunately nothing which can remedy such a mechanism of intellectual perversion. This mechanism is based upon the bad conscience and the total impotence of the so-called "democratic" elites who are unable to find a solution to both impasses, that of contemporary art and that of the political struggle against the Front National. The elites have simply chosen to fuse the two problems together in a single moralizing and vituperative discourse. The real question, then, becomes whether one can still open one's mouth, utter anything which may sound strange, irreverent, heterodoxical or paradoxical without being automatically called a fascist (which is, let's admit it, a way of paying tribute to fascism). Why has every moral, conventional, or conformist discourse - traditional rightist discourses - moved to the left?

There has been a shattering reformulation. The right used to embody moral values and the left, by contrast, used to represent an antagonistic mode of historical and political exigency. But today the left is deprived of its political energy. It has become a purely moralistic law-making structure, a representative of universal values, a sacred holder of the reign of Virtue, and an incarnation of antiquated values such as Good or Truth. It now acts as a jurisdiction which asks everyone to act responsibly while still granting itself the right to remain irresponsible. The political illusion of the left (which had remained frozen during twenty years of opposition) turned into a platform of historical morality (and not of historical direction) once it came to power. It then became the holder of a morality of truthfulness, basic rights, and good conscience, having thus reached a zero degree on the political scale and, undoubtedly, the lowest point of the genealogy of morals. Its moralization of all values marked its historical failure (and the failure of thinking in general). Since then, even reality, the principle of reality, has become an act of faith. Try to question the reality of war, for example, and you immediately become a betrayer of moral law.

With the left and the traditional right both deprived of political substance, where has the political gone to? Well, simply, it has moved to the far right. As Bruno Latour so accurately noted the other day in Le Monde, the only political discourse today in France is that of Le Pen's Front National. All the rest is moral and pedagogic discourse, teachers' lessons and lecturers' tirades, managers' rhetoric and programmers' jargon. By contrast, having given himself to evil and immorality, Le Pen has been able to take over all of the political, the remnant of what has been abandoned or voluntarily rejected by a political ideology of Good deeds and Enlightenment values. The more he is antagonized by a moral coalition (a sign of political impotence), the more he enjoys the benefits of political immorality, the benefits which come with being the only one on the side of evil. In the past, whenever the traditional right decided to implement an ideology of morality and order, you could always count on the left, always attempting to antagonize those so-called moral values in the name of political claims. But today, the left is experiencing the same condition that once characterized the traditional right. Suddenly responsible for the defense of moral order, the left has no choice but to witness the slippage of abandoned political energies toward political forces which do not hesitate to antagonize its newly created order. Conversely, the left keeps on reactivating the source of evil by continuing to embody the rule of virtue, which of course is nothing more than the rule of supreme hypocrisy.

If Le Pen did not exist, we would have to invent him! Indeed, it is thanks to him that we can get rid of our evil share, of what is the worst part of us. It is as such that we can curse Le Pen. If he were to disappear, however, we would be left begging for pity! We would be left struggling with our own racist, sexist, and nationalist (everyone's fate) viruses. Simply, we would be abandoned to the murderous negativity of society. As such, Le Pen is the perfect mirror of the political class which uses him to conjure up its own evils, just as every individual uses the political class to cast away any form of corruption inherent to society (both are similar types of corrupt and cathartic functions). Trying to put an end to this, trying to purify society and moralize public life, trying to eradicate what claims to embody evil is a complete misunderstanding of the way evil operates, of the way politics itself operates.

Opting for a mode of unilateral denunciation, and ignoring the very principle of reversibility of evil, anti-Le Pen supporters have left him with a monopolistic control over the evil share. Having thus been cast away, Le Pen can no longer be dislodged. By demonizing him in the name of virtue, the political class simply offers him a most comfortable situation. Le Pen simply has to pick up and recycle the discourse of ambivalence, of denial of evil, and of hypocrisy that his opponents constantly throw at him in the course of their battle for the defense of law or the defense of a good cause. Le Pen's enemies provide him with the energy he needs. Too eager to discredit him, they simply transform his mistakes into (his own) victories. They do not see that good never comes from a purification of evil (evil always retaliates in a forceful way), but rather from a subtle treatment which turns evil against itself.

All this shows us that Le Pen may be the embodiment of worthlessness and idiocy. No doubt! But he is above all the symptom of his opponents' stupidity. The imbeciles are those who, by denouncing him, blatantly reveal their own impotence and idiocy and glaringly demonstrate how absurd it is to antagonize him face to face. They simply have not understood the rules of evil that his game of musical chairs follow. By continuing to antagonize him, the imbeciles give life to their own ghosts, their negative doubles. This shows, indeed, a terrifying lack of lucidity on their part. But what drives such a perverse effect, the fact that the left remains trapped in a discourse of denunciation whereas Le Pen maintains a privilege of enunciation? What pushes one to gain all the profits from the crime while the other suffers the negative effects of recrimination? What causes one to "get off" [s'eclatant] with evil when the other gets lost with the victim?

Well, it's quite simple. By incarcerating Le Pen in a ghetto, it is in fact the democratic left which becomes incarcerated and which affirms itself as a discriminatory power. It becomes exiled within its own obsession and automatically grants a privilege of justice to what it demonizes. And, of course, Le Pen never misses an opportunity to claim republican legality and fairness on his behalf. But it is above all on the imaginary but very pregnant figure of the rebel and persecuted soul that he establishes his prestige. Thus, he can enjoy the consequences of both legality and illegality. A victim of ostracism, Le Pen has an incredible freedom of language and can deploy an unmatched arrogance of judgement, something that the left has deprived itself of.

Let's give an example of such a magical thought that today stands in for political thought. Le Pen is blamed for the sentiment of rejection and exclusion of immigrants in France. But this is just a drop in an ocean of social exclusion that has overwhelmed all of society (recently, exclusion itself, as well as the "social breakdown" that politicians like to mention, were all excluded by the decree signed by the President of the Republic to dissolve the National Assembly). We are all both responsible and victim at the same time of this inextricable and complex process of exclusion. There is something typically magical in the need to conjure up this virus, which is everywhere to be found (it is a direct function of our social and technical "progress"), and in the desire to exorcise the curse of exclusion (and our impotence by the same token) through the figure of a hated man, institution, or organization, no matter who or what they are. It is as if we were faced with a tumor in need of extraction whereas, in fact, the metastases have already expanded everywhere. The Front National simply follows the course of the social metastases, and is all the more virulent since people think that they have eradicated the disease when, in fact, it has already infected the entire body. Not to mention that this process of magical projection of the Front National takes place along the same lines as this party's own process of demonization of immigrants. One must always be suspicious of the ruse of contamination, a ruse which, by means of the transparency of evil, mutates positivity into negativity, and a demand for liberty into "democratic despotism." As usual, it is a question of reversibility, of a subtle encirclement of evil whose rational intelligence is never suspected. While modern pathology tells us a lot about the physical body, we do not pay attention to this mode of analysis when it comes to the social body.

To remain within the political, we must step away from ideology and look at things through the lens of social physics. Our democratic society is a stasis. Le Pen is a metastasis. Global society is dying of inertia and immune deficiency. Le Pen is simply the visible transcription of such a viral condition; he is the spectacular projection of the virus. This happens in dreams too. Le Pen is a burlesque, hallucinatory figuration of a latent state, of a silent inertia caused by forced integration and systematic exclusion. Since the hope of finally curing social inequalities has truly disappeared (by and large), it is no surprise if resentment has moved to the level of racial inequality. The failure of the social explains the success of the racial (and of all the other fatal strategies). As such, Le Pen is the only savage analyst in today's society. The fact that he is placed on the far right is merely the sad result of the fact that analysts are no longer to be found on the left or the far left. Judges, intellectuals no longer analyze. Only the immigrants perhaps, as polar opposites, could become analysts too. But they already have been recycled by a good and responsible humanitarian thought. Le Pen is the only one who operates a radical erasure of the so-called distinction between right and left. This is, no doubt, an erasure by default. But the harsh criticism of this conventional distinction which was unleashed in the 1960s (and culminated in 1968) has unfortunately disappeared from the political scene today. Le Pen simply recuperates a de facto situation that the political class refuses to confront (it even uses elections to deny it), but whose extreme consequences will be felt some day. If, one day, political imagination, political will, and political demand hope to rebound, they will have to take into account the radical abolition of the antiquated and artificial distinction between right and left, which, in fact, has been largely damaged and compromised over the past decades, and which only holds today through some sort of complicit corruption on both sides. This distinction is dead in practice but, by means of an incurable revisionism, is constantly reaffirmed. Thus, Le Pen is the only one who makes up the new political scene, as if everyone else had already agreed to destroy what's left of democracy, perhaps to produce the retrospective illusion that it actually used to mean something.

What consequences of this extreme (but original) situation can we envisage if we do not focus on the hallucinatory medium that Le Pen embodies, if we do not take into account the point of magical conjuration where all energies converge and vanish? How can we avoid falling for the viral growth of our own ghosts if we fail to take into account, beyond moral order and democratic revisionism, the type of savage analysis that Le Pen and the Front National have, to some extent, taken from us?

This article originally appeared as "La conjuration des imbeciles" in Liberation on May 7, 1997.

Translated by Francois Debrix. Francois Debrix is a Ph.D. candidate in Political Theory and International Relations at Purdue University.

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