The Nihilism of Neoliberalism

Nihilists! Fuck me. I mean, say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos.
-Walter Sobchak, The Big Lebowski

When Francis Fukuyama infamously declared the end of history he was right, though likely not in the way he intended. The collapse of the Soviet Union was supposed to signify the victory of capitalism, but, in fact, marked the very opposite. Without communism as a counterweight, capitalism has become ever more vicious and corrupt. What we have been left with is a deeply nihilistic present.

As the film-maker Adam Curtis has argued, the late capitalist “West” has taken on many of the features of late communist USSR. Curtis has adopted the term “hypernormalisation”—coined by Alex Yurchak to describe the last days of the Soviet Union when everyone knew the system was failing and no one believed in it anymore, yet persisted because they did not see an alternative. They could not imagine a different future and, therefore, they could not imagine a future at all. The post-communist world is small-minded and bereft of imagination. Of bureaucrats, politicians and political operatives who cannot imagine a future. The development of humanity has reached its apex, the end of its progression, with liberal democracy and capitalism. From such a point-of-view, there is nothing better to be found in the future and self-delusions of the greatness of the present have to be clung to. Thus, as Hillary Clinton proclaimed during her campaign, America is already great. The suffering of millions under the conditions of capitalism and the increasing hopelessness of the future for many be damned.

The last two years have made stark the implications of neoliberal nihilism for anyone willing to view the situation honestly. Brexit, Donald Trump, the possibility of President Marine Le Pen. These are the direct consequence of this nihilism and can only be halted from the left. As the widespread indifference and complicity by the so-called center as fascism rose to power in the 1920s and 1930s demonstrate, the center will cannot offer solutions. Indeed, as the repeated interventions by the neo-imperialist American government in support of far-right military coups against democratically elected leftist governments show, not only will the center not meaningfully oppose fascism, it is only too happy to bring it about. One only needs to observe the vicious destruction by the liberal establishment of Jeremy Corbyn in the UK or the slanderous assaults against Bernie Sanders in the US. These attacks have come even though Sanders, Corbyn and Jean-Luc Mélenchon are the only real hope that the “West” has against a fascist future. The neoliberal “left” of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Tony Blair cannot imagine a future and, thus, condemn the world to nihilistic despair. Since the neoliberals can only offer a nihilistic nothingness, they are irrelevant. Unlike neoliberalism, the Right and the Left both offer visions of the future and it is between these competing visions that the present elections are really about, though few have really grasped this yet or realized what this means.

The future imagined by the Right has been clearly articulated in the best-selling novel Soumission by the right wing French novelist and would-be intellectual Michel Houellebecq. In the novel Houellebecq foresees a future in which France has become, to use a word popular among internet neo-nazis, cucked by Muslims. Political correctness and tolerance has the consequence, for Houellebecq, of the destruction of French culture by Islam. Thus, the novel ends with the protagonist converting to Islam along with many of his colleagues as non-Muslims become barred from academic posts. The version of Islam represented in the novel is one of the cruelty of sharia law and an imagined hedonism of polygamy and child brides. Thus, the toleration and cosmopolitan ambitions of the European Union result in the “destruction” of France.

It is against this threat, imagined and absurd though it is, that the nationalists represented by Marine Le Pen fight. They see politics as a battle to save the Christian world. Thus, we can understand the immediacy of their politics and the radicalness of their intentions. The nationalist far right is not wedded to the fantasy of liberal democracy and, therefore, accept authoritarianism if that will protect them from the dark future of their imagination. Of course, the corrupt kleptocracy that will result if these nationalists obtain power will mean that the future they bring will be one every bit as grim as the one their supporters imagine they are protecting themselves against.

The Left, on the other hand, offers an actual alternative. In rejecting capitalist destruction, the Left demands a future centered on principles of human dignity and equality. The ambitions of the current representatives of the left are rather small. Healthcare-for-all, a living wage, bankers who are not allowed to destroy the economy and get a trillion dollar bailout and multi-million dollar bonuses for their trouble. Yet even this very limited and insufficient agenda is derided as unfeasible and is beyond the imagination of the nihilists. A healthcare system accessible to all is seen by those such as Hillary Clinton as something that will never, ever happen and her proclamation of such is celebrated as pragmatic. Is it any wonder that Donald Trump, despite his buffoonery and obvious meanness is now president?

With the first round of the French presidential elections tomorrow I see a few possible scenarios listed from least likely to most likely:

  1. Jean-Luc Mélenchon makes it through the first round, wins in the second and is able to enact enough of his leftist agenda to prevent France from its final descent into fascism.
  2. Jean-Luc Mélenchon makes it through the first round, wins the second and is completely stymied by forces of the French establishment. A likely result is Marine Le Pen is elected in the next election.
  3. Marine Le Pen wins the election.
  4. Emmanuel Macron is elected and continues to press forward with nihilistic neoliberalism and the National Front sweeps to power in the following elections.