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Deutsch: Realisten und Fundamentalisten

Robert Kurz

Realists and Fundamentalists
On the way back to the 17th century: The ideological self-delusion of the West.

In the way it sees itself, the West is the "free world," the democratic world, the reasonable world, in short: the best of all possible worlds. This world is to be pragmatic and open, without a utopian or totalitarian claim. Everyone is to find his or her own salvation, as was promised by the tolerance of the European Enlightenment. And the representatives of this world say that they are realists. They claim that their institutions, their thoughts and actions, are in agreement with the "natural laws" of society, with "reality," it being the way it is. Socialism, so we hear, perished because it was "unrealistic." Along with socialism, every utopia of a fundamental change of society is to be buried for all time. And the former critics of the Western "way of life" jostle their way to the box office to get their entrance ticket for globalized capitalism on time.

This idyll of tolerance and of global capitalist democracy however, has given rise to a new enemy. It is true that socialism is dead, but in its place, religious fundamentalism has entered the arena. Fundamentalism is ugly, much uglier than socialism could ever have been. And in the eyes of Western ideologists, it looks quite Arabic. In recent years, the Pentagon has begun construing Islamic fundamentalism into a historical substitute enemy. The Moslem "arc of crisis" from Pakistan to Mauritania is now considered to be a strategic battle region. Just like in the times of the cold war against socialism, in the new constellation all powers are supported that profess to be for the West and against fundamentalism, even if it is a matter of ever so corrupt and cruel regimes. But the new strategic equation, with which the Western specialists responsible for the conception of enemies try to justify their further existence, will not work out. Fundamentalism is not a rational, politically definable and in its actions calculable enemy, as was socialism.

It also does not have a definite center in the world and above all is not limited to Islam. In recent years, fundamental Christian sects have increasingly taken the place of the socialist movements in many non-Moslem regions of Africa and in all of Latin America.

And the same societal madness of religious fundamentalism now flourishes in the Western centers of the world market. It was a shock for the USA, when it turned out that it was not foreign Islamic terrorists that carried out the devastating bomb attack of Oklahoma, but white US Christians with the ideology of Christian "warriors of God." For years, "God's own country" has been overrun with radical evangelistic sects that incidentally also control the evangelization of Latin America. For many youths in Germany, obscure religious groups have become a substitute for politics; there is a heated open discussion about the influence of clandestine sects like the "Scientology" church which infiltrate the economy and society. And who would have thought, that in a country like Japan, which is considered to be a model pupil of capitalist success, a radical apocalyptic sect like Aum Shinrikyo with its leader Shoko Asahara could influence so many people and could even recruit followers from the Japanese army?

"God's lunatics" are advancing everywhere. Where do they come from? Certainly not from another planet. They come directly from the heart of the capitalist world itself. In reality, neo-liberalism knows little about humans. Today nobody can deny that social misery spreads in the liberal world of the market like a wildfire. Not only in Brazil, but also in the whole world, Western freedom and tolerance shows itself cynically as a "democracy of apartheid," as it was aptly labeled by Jurandir Freiere Costa (The University of Rio). At the same time, social relations are disintegrating not only in slums, but also in all classes of society. Both the real processes of the market and neo-liberal ideology have the tendency to dissolve all human relationships into the economy. In 1992, the US economist Gary S. Becker was awarded the Nobel Prize for the theorem that even outside of the market, all human behavior is aligned with cost-benefit viewpoints and can be mathematically depicted, even love.

The "realists" have just as much an answer for social misery as they do for the misery of human relations and feelings in a totally economized, rationalized world; they only shrug their shoulders and get down to capitalist business. But the misery cannot stay silent; it must find a language. And because the rational language of socialism is dead, the irrational language of religion returns in the broken-down society; but with a wild and malicious grammar. Economic neo-liberalism shouts "capitalism," and the pseudo-religious echo shouts back: "end off the world." It now turns out that socialism was not just an ideology, but also a sort of moral filter, without which modern civilization cannot exist. Unfiltered, unbridled capitalism suffocates in its own moral filth, which is no longer institutionally treated.

For almost 150 years, up until the 1970s, every thrust of capitalist modernization simultaneously gave rise to a reforming or revolutionary social activity of intellectual youths. Again and again, the solidarity with the "insulted and injured" was a strong impulse for opposition and a radical critique of society, particularly with the "golden youth," the "most beautiful youth," of the upper classes. After the global victory of the market, this impulse has died. The "golden boys" and "golden girls" of the neo-liberal era only want to play the stock market. The youth of the middle class is narcissistically demoralized and is not even intellectual anymore. It has surrendered spiritually and intellectually to the total market. Whether in Egypt and Algeria, or Brazil and India: The Western-orientated youths dream of making money as engineers and doctors, or as soccer players and track and field athletes; they no longer feel any responsibility for social misery.

And in the West, the middle-class youths also sink into social cynicism. Among some youths in Germany that drive expensive cars, it has become chic to wear a button with the label: "Your poverty disgusts me." The remaining intellectuals aesthetize the misery and exploit it commercially; the agony of the starving is instrumentalized for commercials. The spiritual orientation according to the logic of the market has even brought forth a "cult of evil." In his book about the renaissance of evil, the German sociologist Alexander Schuller says: "Our daily life and imagination are no longer occupied by progress and reason, but by evil." Since the decline of socialism, there has been an increase in empirically measurable cruelty. But if the youth of the middle class is degenerated, then the children of the poor can no longer rationally and morally indict their own misery. During a survey among youths under fourteen years of age in Moscow, in which the dream job was asked about, the majority of boys answered "mafioso" and the girls "prostitute."

Fundamentalism does not do away with this condition of demoralization; it only gives it an irrational spiritual expression. When this pseudo-religious regression seizes the remains of a lost hope which was dropped by history, then it is the turned-vague wish to finally be left in peace by capitalism, to find the way back to a peaceful social order and to be able to sit on a bench in front of the house, without having to think, full of fear, of the next day. However, fundamentalism does not have a program for social emancipation, but only for the ideologization of blind aggression, which the failure of emancipation has left behind. Its whole program exhausts itself in a religiously cloaked impulse, as it manifests itself in an expression used by youths in the slums of Paris: "J'ai la haine"-I have a hate. The new religions of hate, be they of a Christian or Islamic origin, are altogether of a synthetic, arbitrary, and eclectic nature. With the authentic religious traditions that they refer to, they have little more in common than the name. They are a product of the disintegrating modern era in the Western and the Westernized societies of the world market. Precisely because they have no historical perspectives to offer, they become alternative career opportunities for the big and little "leaders" upon the wave of resentment.

The representatives of official society and the ideologists of neo-liberalism react to this development with the wish to wed the logic of the market with "conservative virtues." Humans are to simultaneously be egoistic and altruistic, are to simultaneously be strong in competition and humble before God, and are to simultaneously have a fixation for the abstract cost-benefit calculation and be morally clean. With this ethical and pedagogical schizophrenia, the thinking of the capitalist "realists" itself blends in with the lies of fundamentalism. Both ideologies are becoming as alike to each other as two peas. That is not surprising, for the background of fundamentalism is not only based on poverty, but also on the fear that the middle class has of the poor. The pseudo-religious mania equally nestles itself in the minds of the poor and the rich. And the religiously cloaked social militancy of the middle class is no less violent than the madness of the poor. In his essay "Ausblicke auf den Bürgerkrieg" (Prospects of Civil War), the German writer Hans Magnus Enzenberger characterizes this tendency of the "honorable society": "Overnight, inconspicuous citizens turn into hooligans, arsonists, madmen, serial killers, and snipers."

Fundamentalism is "realistic" and "realism" is fundamentalistic. Both possess the same ideological structure. As is well known, both talk about the "end of history," only that the eschatologists of the market believe this end has been reached. In addition, both move in the same media: Just as the managers of the market lust after money, so do the preachers of pretended enlightenment. Like the politicians, they lust after presence on television, and the "theocracies" lust after the atomic bomb. Those are all Western media. The false prophets possess no idea of a different form of society; they have to let themselves be compared to the knowledge that the Canadian sociologist Marschall McLuhan already formulated back in the 1960s: "The medium is the message."

Conversely, capitalist "realism" cannot deny its quasi-religious character. Did we not see, how US President Bush, just like his Islamic enemy Saddam Hussein, sent the god of a militant religion to the front line? Those are not only just external appearances. The rationality of the market has a religious origin; it is only as rational as an in itself closed irrational system brings forth its own inner-rationality. The result of modern history, the total world market, is the result of a secularized religion, which began with a Protestant-Calvinistic form. Particularly the USA, the last superpower of the world market, is to this day influenced by a deep Calvinistic fundamentalism of "making money" as an end in itself. Western tolerance is only an especially perfidious form of intolerance, for the god of the market tolerates no other gods besides itself; and it tolerates only that which has a priori and unconditionally surrendered to its media.

The end of history is the reversal of history. At the beginning of capitalist modernization, there were the religious wars of the early 17th century. This period was replaced by absolutism with its state-run economic, mercantile structures. Not until the 19th century did the liberalism of the free market flourish. But how are we to understand the 20th century? It apparently completed the totality of the market. But at the same time it was a century of crisis, in which history began to go backwards. The state-run war economy of both world wars, the budgetary socialism of the East as well as the West, and also the Keynesianism of the West with its state-run economic elements, can to some extent be understood as a return to the mercantile era, but on a higher stage of development. Now, after the bankruptcy of all variants of the modern state-run economy, neo-liberalism promises a new golden era of the free market. But if history has really moved in a backward direction, then we are on the brink of a new era. The American political scientist Samuel P. Huntington (Harvard) says more, than he knows, when he puts forth the hypothesis that the period of conflicts between ideologies and nation states is being replaced by a "conflict of civilizations." Does this mean anything else, other than that the process of capitalist modernization, before it is finally swallowed by a black hole of history, returns to the era of religious militancy and the Thirty Years War?

Neo-liberalism will be sucked with irresistible force into this tendency because it possesses with its "dark utopia" of a total market, a totalitarian religious core. In comparison, socialism was not only a state-run economy, but also the idea of a solidary society that consciously regulates itself instead of following irrational principles. If we do not want the 21st century to turn into a new period of religious wars, then we must formulate socialism anew in a different, no longer state-run economic form. Only this way is it possible, that history will open itself again.