That Zizek quote is one of my favorite quotes. Widely quoted, less understood. But it does give an effective insight into what is the liberal mind.
There’s a strain of thought that says that the history of our civilization is a rising curve and tomorrow will always be better than today. Of course, that is on a fundamental level a lie: the rights of individuals have lived through periods of progress and occasionally they have regressed. In relatively recent history, one could point at the history of African-Americans, who gained significant rights post-1865 and then lost them again when Jim Crow came into force when the southern states were rehabilitated as political entities. And it took the African-American population of the United States nearly a hundred years to get those rights back, and it can be argued that even the vast effort of the Civil Rights movement didn’t manage to turn back the clock because if would have won equal rights to African-Americans, there would be no need for Black Lives Matter, and there certainly wouldn’t be a president Trump.
What became apparent in the 2010’s was that after the financial crisis of 2008-2009, capitalism and neoliberalism had failed at ensuring a sufficient living standard and sufficient income for a vast section of the population in the Western World. Matter of fact, wages in the United States have not, on an absolute level, risen at all since the 1970’s.
Francis Fukuyama’s reaction to the fall of Communism was to declare an end of history: from hereon, the future history of our civilization would be just constant progress and liberal representative democracies. Practically before Fukuyama had put pen to paper, his theory was proven false by the collapse of Yugoslavia. Yet, Yugoslavia was far away enough for most to ignore.
What should have not been ignored post-2008 was the meteoric rise of far right populist movements in the West. Granted, they had existed earlier, but now they became a general phenomenon. FPÖ, Swedish Democrats, AfD, the Rudimentary Finns, UKIP, the Tea Party movement and so on and so on.
These movements and parties have managed to succeed in places and cause a significant change in the status quo, driving mainstream politics towards even more open racist, nationalist and minority-hating politics, as is now happening in the United States but the same has happened in Finland, Sweden, Germany, France and the UK too.
If there is a single reason to point towards why the powers that be have been incapable of fighting far right populism, it is the same as always: ideology. In a neoliberal discourse, there is no room for significant differences of opinion. Neoliberal ideology contains an idea of that the end goal of all political movements is fundamentally the same, namely prosperity for all (except for those left along the way), efficiency through privatization and economic growth. What they are unable to realize, because they have eaten from the trashcan of ideology and unable to see what they are eating, is that a significant number of people do not want this vision of the future.
This is the utter impossibility of neoliberalism: the rejection of it. From it stems the neoliberal criticism of the socialist left: that they are against progress. The same charge is levied against the populist far right: why do you resist progress? The neoliberal right doesn’t even expect an answer, because they think resistance to their ideology is irrational and fundamentally without content or meaning.
The fact remains that for those who have not prospered under neoliberal policies, there are a multitude of reasons to resist. The left defends justice in economics, where profits should not simply be up for grabs but wealth redistribution should happen. Of course, no viable left party in Europe is actually even for socialism, all left parties have to some degree accepted the status quo. Still they have limits to what they can accept without completely giving up their premise.
And the populist far right both uses the economics and a virulent hate for minorities that exist in various degrees in every society. Nationalist and populist right politics start to sound attractive to those who hate immigrants and other minorities. Especially notable is the anti-feminist ideology of the far right, because the financial success of a subset of women under neoliberalism has been identified as a threat by those men. But we should not get too deep into what motivates the populist far right, because that is immaterial for now.
Is there any surprise to be had when the fact is that the neoliberal right is toothless against the far right, when they are ideologically unable to realize that a threat even exists? They mouth platitudes such as Michelle Obama’s “When they go low, we go high” even when it has never produced any results whatsoever against an opponent that aims for ethnic cleansing at worst and apartheid at best. A lot of words were wasted on saying “It is bad to punch Richard Spencer”, even when Spencer absolutely is successful and no liberal condemnation of his fascism has ever led to anything. Appeals are made at Twitter and Facebook to stop giving the far right platforms, endlessly, over and over again. But to no avail, because those companies have no interest in shutting down fascists who generate them profits.If fascists were to be denied a platform for their propaganda and/or persecuted and called out for their beliefs and actions, they would most likely use this to their advantage, victimize themselves and thus antagonize the liberal “establishment” and “mass media” as opponents to the far-right “truth” which has become “illegal” to say aloud.
So, what is happening now? People who have previously identified themselves as liberals, have stopped doing so. Some have seen that their liberal ideals led them nowhere, when they finally faced someone capable of resisting. Some are doubling down on the eating of ideological garbage (link in Finnish) and it is a wonderful thing to behold.
Some of these decided that they simply weren’t ideological enough and decided to double down on their neoliberal ideology. They are the Fukuyamas at the Gates of Hell, hearing the roar of the fires of Hell and saying “Hell doesn’t exist.”