Mainstream, VOL LIV No 44 New Delhi October 22, 2016
The Political Ontology of Public Policy
Sunday 23 October 2016
by Murzban Jal
Ontology cannot lay hold of a fart.—Jacques Derrida, Glas
Searching for the Public Space
It was Surendra Barlingay, one of the charismatic figures of the philosophical movement in Maharashtra and the founding figure of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Pune (now Savitribai Phule Pune University), who had talked of the origins of philosophy lying in wonder (for him with Plato and Western philosophy) and misery (in India).1
In a certain sense (especially after May 2014) we are not caught in wonder, but in misery, even a form of dukha that Buddhism talked of, or a form of human estrangement (Entfremdung) which devours humanity, thus devouring public space. Whilst the site of the public space became central to the discourses of modernity, its abuse also became a part of this negative dialectic. Fascism became the master discourse of the manipulation of the public space. This paper is on the consequent reworking of the discourses of the public space. Along with this I also bring in the role of fascism and the abuse of the public with the need of creating a revolutionary public policy. Public policy, by and large, fall in two categories: that of liberalism and that of socialism. Neolioberalism will change this. The very idea of public policy will be first made subservient to the dictates of capital accumulation and then obliterated by the dictatorship of finance capital. And fascism as the necessary representation of this form of dictatorship of finance capital will completely obliterate the very idea of public policy.
In socialism, doctors and teachers are in charge of hospitals, health care and education. In capitalism, it is the capitalist barons along with their ideological economists (usually in the payroll of the World Bank) who are in charge of health, education and every aspect of the public space. And since the fascist demagogue has replaced the economist as the Prime Minister in 2014 sending the nation into chaos, the articulation of public policy, in fact articulating a secularist and socialist public policy, gains greater importance.
Searching for a Political Ontology
Ontology in classical philosophy as the theory of being (Sein) was in the last century converted into the theory of social ontology by Georg Lukacs and later into hauntology by Jacques Derrida. It is these two themes, social ontology and hauntology, that shall enter the discourse of the theory of political ontology. By social ontology I mean the part played by labour in the formation and function of human history. History as human history is part of “natural history”. Here humanity is understood as necessarily being a part of nature. Neither does the Cartesian dualism of mind/body, nature/culture function here, nor the capitalist idea of nature being understood as an exploitative Other only to be used for gaining profit. Nature is no longer the “big Other” (to borrow a term of Slavoj Zizek)2 in today’s neoliberal capitalist era, but a “filthy Other”. That which cannot be converted to profit has necessarily to be understood as filthy. In contrast to this neoliberal idea, I am claiming that humanity is not to be understood as divorced from nature, nor as being above nature, trying to control it.
It is in this naturalist and humanist perspective that I am articulating a political ontology based on the historicism and humanism of the social life world. This necessitates a formation of a New Science. This New Science is a project of unified knowledge. We have thus a unified science, as human natural science which is the natural science of humanity and the human science of nature. Humanity, one must insist, is also the necessary object of the natural sciences.3 At the outset it is important to recognise that one has to articulate a humanist theory of science, a science which is at the same time a unified and dialogical theory of science, for a process of democratisation in Indian society to take place. And since, the sciences cannot be fragmented and estranged from one another, I am insisting that there can only be one science: that of history a discipline that has two sides: nature and humanity.4 The first would give rise to the natural sciences, the second to the human sciences. The first will deal with nature as genus whilst the second will deal with humanity as species. The democratic political ontology that I am deriving, links genus and species, as the histories of nature and humanity.
Fascism, one must note, does not merely dehumanise humanity. It also dehumanises nature. The political ontology that I am trying to produce talks of the humanisation of nature and humanity. It is this perspective that I understand:
1. The philosophy of praxis, and
2. Historicism, naturalism and humanism as the methodologies of the sciences.
Whilst the first point is derived from the philosophy of Antonio Gramsci, the second is also derived from his repertoire, with only the idea of “naturalism” being included. It is this philosophy of praxis and the articulation of science as historicism and humanism that I outline as a general ontology of public policy. I depart from Louis Althusser’s assertion: “All philosophy is essential political”, where by politics, I mean, derived from the Greco origins: politeia, with its dual implications: “politics as the public sphere” (also known as “the conditions and rights of the citizen”, which is the idea of citizenship itself realised as the community of citizens), as well as “police”.5 What happens is that political ontology gets split into two warring halves, the latter taking a violent anti-humanist stance where the very idea of citizenship is questioned by the fascist idea of the community defined by blood descent. As “police” it takes the forms of “administered reason” (to borrow a term from Theodor Adorno) and “technological reason” (to recall Jurgen Habermas) which completely devours human interests in the great vow of ushering in capitalist development. The irony in this negative dialectic is that the discourse of “politics as the public sphere” (the space of citizenship) is entirely lost for the discourse of policing. Policing thus is raised as a ‘science’.
What happens is that the fascist demagogue is now dressed as a policeman, despite him being well known as criminal avant la lettre.
Two Ghosts: The Criminal and the Policeman
It is from this space that one moves from into the space of hauntology. By “hauntology” one means that classical ontology from Aristotle to Hegel and liberalism is dead. This death is announced by monopoly capitalism and the corporate warfare state, both, as we very well know, being the essential parts of India, at least since May 2014. And since ontology dies, killed by the cruel capitalist, hauntology emerges from the grave to haunt humanity.
But what monopoly capitalism and the corporate warfare capitalist do is that they become totally fascist—in fact taking the form of communal-fascism—where all the rotten aspects of European fascism: racism, biological supremacy, anti-communism, imperialism and total war are included in Indian fascism. Hanutology now claims that one cannot be a liberal anymore in the struggle against fascism. Like Marx’s spectre of communism that was made to haunt the powers of Old Europe from the popes and the tsars to the German police spies and French radicals, a New Spectre of Communism has to be conjured to haunt the powers of Old India.
This New Spectre, or should we say, New Communism, operates in the interstices of capitalism in the era of triumphant fascism. Not only does it operate in the interstices of capitalism, it operates in the interstices of civil society and the state. What I will like to stress is that it does not operate directly in either civil society or the state.
I am saying this is because the public itself is not found in either civil society or the state. That is why it is imperative to note that the public is only found in the interstices of contemporary capitalism in permanent crisis. In civil society one finds only the bourgeois hyper individualist individual (Marx’s estranged individual) devoured by conspicuous consum-ption, whilst in the state one finds that the fascists have total monopoly of the state apparatus. The liberals in the state exist only as shadows of fascism. Their existence as shadowy liberals is dependent on fascism, on the real body of fascism. Just as a shadow can exist only when there is a real object, liberals (as shadows) exist only when the real object of fascism exists. The master and the slave (—or Lordship and Bondage, the essential part of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Mind where the Lord-ship is overthrown) have now been converted into the object and the shadow.
For fascism, the public does not exist. It is only the mob that exists, always to be at the mercy of mass hysteria to be mobilised against not only the spectre of communism, but also against the spectres of visible beef, missing and invisible cows, even more invisible Pakistanis, Left historians who critique fascism, writers who return awards, Tipu Sultan and many more demons constructed by the Fascist Culture Industry. What needs being done for scientific research is rethinking Adorno’s idea of the Culture Industry and articulating a theory of Fascist Culture Industry.
Science in the Age of Fascism
Besides the ideology of racist supremacy and eugenics predicated on the imperialist warfare state, fascism builds its entire edifice on mytho-poetics, especially on the mytho-poetics of a biologistically defined nation governed by blood descent. That fascism is also built on the idea of the supremacy of the imagined ‘Aryan’ race based on the pseudo-science of eugenics, implies that science as science has necessarily to be falsified and suppressed.
In fact what fascism does is that it garners science (but science merely as technological reason, or only as a form of technique) that is totally estranged from scientific temper and the spirit of critical inquiry. The manipulation of the image of A.P.J. Kalam (as both a scientist and a patriotic Muslim) is only one example of this distortion. What we have here is not only what Gayatri Chakrabarti Spivak calls “the triviali-sation of humanities and the privatisation of imagination”,6 but the complete destruction and eclipse of reason (to borrow the phrases of Georg Lukacs and Max Horkheimer) and the consequent fascistisation of imagination.
Let us have a look at mainstream university and academic journals since the victory of the Indian fascists in the 2014 National Elections. How many have taken a serious study of fascism? Except journals like Mainstream,Social Scientist and Economic and Political Weekly, which have been consistent in their critique of fascism, except for writers and historians who are clearly part of the Left-centric academic discourse, have mainstream university research ever bothered to introduce courses of “public policy, secularism and the threat of communal-fascism”? Why then have universities been so alienated from public discourses in India, whereby from their earlier endeavour of producing technicians and clerks, as what I call “techno-clerics” who are totally blind to social reality (instead of seekers of knowledge), they are now proceeding to creating “techno-clerics” or the ideologues of the fascist counterrevolution? Remember that it was Nazi Germany who converted Max Weber’s thesis of “science as vocation (Beruff)” to science for the service to the Nazi state, now strangely being repeated by the elites in India, Pakistan and Iran. The answer is that universities would be totally predicated to the ruling classes and thus when neoliberalism entered India, the universities turned Rightwards in terms of economics promoting only careerism and competiveness.
Were universities then not only producing but promoting hyper-individualism and consu-merism, leading to a system of transformation of conspicuous consumers to fascist ideologues, thus totally restricting the development of anti-fascist politics? The problem is that liberalism cannot deal with the threat of fascism. For them, it is only individualism and conspicuous consumption which are important. And most certainly individualism cannot deal with fascism. One needs thus to ask the questions: “What is the relation between conspicuous consumption and the rise of fascism, especially the rise of fascist mytho-poetics?” and “Which classes are the real backers of fascism and what is the caste composition of fascism?”
What Indian fascist mytho-poetics does is that in hallucinated recalling of India’s imagined “Golden past”, it creates a duplicate-double, similar to the tendencies of the psychotic’s creation of this imagined double. What rigorus science needs to do is analyse this process with the help of psychoanalysis. Now what fascism’s double does is that (like that of the psychotic) it appears as the Real. This duplicate-double appears as the Real, whilst reality is totally obliterated. This is the leitmotiv of fascism. Scientific studies geared towards democratic politics should engage this process.
For what we shall see is that the duplicate-double takes the form of race and caste supremacy. In this problematic the real history of India is veiled, whilst race and caste supremacy appear as the Real. To my mind, not enough of study on the relation between caste and fascism has been done. What I insist on is the study of how the Indian fascists manipulate caste (whilst creating the fiction of the warrior-priests caste as the ideal rulers, a feature that V.D. Savarkar brought in the mainstream in his Essentials ofHindutva) and caste hierarchy to create the hysteria of viewing Muslims as the “hostile Other”. Besides channelising caste with the ideology of anti-democracy and anti-humanism, fascism will see that all ‘sciences’ are subservient to the communal-fascist corporate warfare state.
The purging of all Left historians from the Indian Council of Historical Research, the putting of a B grade failed actor and avid fan and propagandist of Modi as the Chairman of the FTII, Pune, the shutting down of the Planning Commission, the downscaling of funding to universities, etc. are all paths to the construction of a neoliberal state. The slogan that Modi boasts of: “less government and more gover-nance”, implies really the complete dismantling of the welfare state and the construction of the warfare state”. This process of welfare to warfare state has to be understood.
The connection of the belittling and devaluation of scientific temper grounded in the logic of discovery and critique and the construction of nationalist mytho-poetics based on the hysterical sublime—that creates mass hysteria—is the basis of fascist policy. For example, in early 2015, when the Prime Minister in an address to the Indian Science Congress held at the Mumbai University talked of plastic surgery and stem cell practiced in ancient India (whereby the mythical Brahmanical god Gana-pati was showcased as an example of plastic surgery and thus to be celebrated as a great scientific discovery) this is not to be understood as an accidental Freudian slip of the tongue. It is the deliberate setting of the agenda of fascistisation of universities in India where scientific reason is replaced by nationalist mytho-poetics.
There has been a double form of blindness involved with this fascistisation of education, the first is what I call “hysterical blindness” after Freud coupled with a form of “moral blindness” that Robert Young talks of in his reading of the German philosopher Martin Heidegger.7 And since Indian universities grew from the cranium of colonialism, later nurtured by Nehruvian liberals, itself negated by the children of Nehru beginning with Manmohan Singh (where econometrics replaced the entire discourse of the critique of capitalist political economy), which itself was succeeded by fascist mytho-poetics, the vacuum found is now blowing up in a storm which simply has to be stopped.
And since, and very rightly, Irfan Habib has equated the Indian fascists with the extremist ISIS, the questions remains: “What is to be Done?” “Is India exploding with irrationality or imploding with insanity—in fact imploding with insanity with the fart?”
In contrast to Derrida who claimed that ontology (as traditional ontology) cannot lay hold of a fart, we must create an ontology that must expose the fascist fart.
All else is folly.
1. S.S. Barlingay, Confessions and Commitments ((New Delhi: Indian Council of Philosophical Research, 1994), p. 3.
2. Slavoj Zizek, Absolute Recoil. Towards a New Foundation of Dialectical Materialism (London: Verso, 2014).
3. See Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1982), p. 138.
4. Ibid., p. 98. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The German Ideology (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1976), p. 34, n.
5. See Etienne Balibar, Politics and the Other Scene ((London: Verso, 2005), p. X.
6. Gayatri Chakraborty Spivak, An Aesthetic Education in the Age of Globalisation (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012), p. XV.
7. Robert Young, Heidegger, Philosophy, Nazism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), p. 9.
The author belongs to the Indian Institute of Education, Pune. He can be contacted at e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org