12 May 2017
Loss of Sovereignty and Social Abjection: On the Melancholic Objects of Political Desire
University of Oslo
University of Vienna
We are currently experiencing a profound crisis of political imagination. Neoliberalism has been generating ever increasing amounts of population that feel disillusioned, angry, impoverished, devalued, lonely, insecure, hopeless, forsaken, and at general loss. The tyranny of the markets has resulted both in the reactionary rise of right-wing populism and in the weakening and emptying of the nation-state. It could be argued that in their melancholia for the traditional world of security, community and solidarity, the right-wing supporters misrecognize their enemy and effectively replace the forces of global capitalism with the more tangible bodies of the immigrant Others. In the process, they become, to the cultural elites who know better and pride themselves on their moral high-ground, socially abject (racist, homophobic and so on) subjects, and yet, they bear their social abjection as a badge of honour and righteousness, as a sign that they are onto something. But we must ask: are we really dealing here with a case of a simple misrecognition, of a replacement of the real problem we are unwilling to acknowledge or deal with (capitalism) with a vicarious one (immigration)? Is it really the lost security, community and solidarity that is being mourned and resuscitated in the first place? And ultimately, is it really the obscenities of the right-wing populism that provoke us or is it something else? Grounded in ethnographic work with outlaw motorcycle clubs and their often right-leaning supporters, I will argue that what these ‘revolting subjects’ in fact sense as lost and what they are pathologically attached to in their melancholia, is political sovereignty. Effectively, what they wish to revive, albeit often inarticulately, is the political fiction of the autonomy of the political vis-à-vis the economic, i.e. the ability of the state to subsume and control the powers of capital. The concern with immigration is secondary, and symptomatic, an inevitable effect of their position as socially abject on one hand and of their insistence on regaining political sovereignty on the other – sovereignty is always predicated on clear boundaries between the inside and the outside, upon the friend-enemy distinction; this is precisely what enables it to be a generative and active force. Is then not what is feared paradoxically the ‘return of the repressed’, namely the return of politics proper (even if in a regressive form) that comes as a shock to the pseudo-political technocratic order? Should we not take this as an opportunity to expand our political imagination and re-channel this moment, rather than resist through more of the same, through more pseudo-politics and more technocratic pragmatic austerity measures? Can we imagine a progressive case for political sovereignty by rethinking boundaries?