“The world in turmoil!” Ruthless Criticism

Translated from GSP 1-2020

“The world in turmoil!”

On the globalized error of the cry for good rule

In the unanimous opinion of the media and its protest experts, 2019 was a year of turmoil in which an unusually large number of people in an unusually large number of countries took to the streets in outrage and discontent in an unusually raucous and radical way. Beyond covering current developments at the scenes of protest and giving critical analysis of the causes for protest, the media pored over the question whether there wasn’t a “common catalyst” or at least a “connection” between the protests. It is obviously too banal to say that people all over the world, given the living conditions that are imposed on them in each country-specific form of the dominant world economic system in which the most basic human needs are often left in the lurch, have tons of reasons to rebel against their national administrators. Rather, it’s much more exciting to say that the world of the internet and social media, although no longer so new, is now providing opportunities for organizing protests and mobilizing discontent in a way that bypasses state controls and repression. It remains to be seen whether organizing demonstrations via smartphones will weld the worldwide protesters together in a digital, mutually inspiring “protest culture.” Their political common ground is the diagnosis of their misery expressed in the popular shouts of protest – “corruption!”, “cronyism!”, “no justice!”, “inaction!” or “puppets of foreign interests!” – by now ringing out even in the most remote Andean highland and on the farthest Indo-Pacific island.

The causes of the mass protests are disparate and are sometimes ignited by the planned introduction of a tax on WhatsApp messages, sometimes by increases in subway fares or cuts in fuel subsidies, or take offense at the constitutional revision of extradition laws, as in the case of the anti-China protests in Hong Kong. One thing unites those outraged about social issues with those outraged about the nation, just like those protesting upcoming government reforms with all those driven to the streets over postponed reforms: they transform their various hardships and damages into a common diagnosis of the failure of their respective governments. No matter how disparate the damaged interests and causes in the various countries, the demonstrators, apparently all over the world, discover the reason for their misery: their respective holders of state power are making a mess of their actual assignment of promoting the common good. Whether from lowly motives of private enrichment, lack of integrity, or reluctance to stand up to foreign interests, the leaders are not providing their people with the sovereign service of good government.

Wherever state rule forces them into living conditions that they aren’t willing to put up with any more, the participants in the protest movements see their conditions of existence and the resulting hardships as the cumulative result of mistakes and omissions by current leadership (or an entire history of misguided policies). Their diagnosis that the politicians have not done something or have done something wrong is based on an ideal of good rule. Consequently, they make a distinction between the personnel in power who incur lots of outrage and anger in light of an identified personal incompetence or even a calculated unwillingness to do the thing well, and respect for the office to which this empty and imaginary task is assigned. A nice way to acquit the state! As if a person’s bad character and moral depravity would ever affect more than his private surroundings if his office didn’t bestow on him the far-reaching power and authority to govern over a land and human inventory; as if the governmental activity that bothers the demonstrators weren’t determined by the duties and necessities of the office; as if the liberties that the rulers take for themselves in office isn’t an essential part of the ruling power that the office confers on them; and as if a proper measure of despotism didn’t go with the power of the state service that competing politicians are eager to provide. In judging their government’s neglect of its duties, the protesters deal with the contradiction between their experiences in the daily struggle to cope with the prevailing circumstances, between the disappointment which inevitably arises after every change of personnel at the head of state among the commoners who are temporarily animated by hope – and their good faith in politics. They self-confidently present themselves loudly as those who are afflicted and victims of bad or lacking government action, and turn their dependence on state decisions into a legal claim on the government, as if subordination under political power were a good argument for demanding that it pay attention to their own interests. This sense of justice against the government in office fuels all the outrage with which the protest, in its radicalism, refuses to obey it. Even when entire leaderships are chased out of office, a termination of the relations of rule does not take place; rather, the demand is presented for a new “system” in which the rulers only do good for their people.

There’s generally no shortage of ambitious candidates for power who feel called upon to answer this call from the beleaguered people for better leadership and trustworthy representatives and to take leadership of the protest. They benefit from the contradiction between the reason and the content of the protest: either the old gang makes assurances that they understand and vow to make improvements, or competitors for the posts of power who see the protests from below as an opportunity for their power ambitions stage themselves as the new hope of the movement and promise to clean up the abuses of the previous government. [1] The “authentic” protest, self-motivated by deep discontent and spontaneously giving vent to its outrage, gets its impetus from the standards of good governance that democratic rule commits itself to and which its people measure it by. As a rule, it is politically directed from above by the competitors for power in a country, so that the people can properly check whether their discontent is reasonable, and it is accordingly incited and stirred up as needed. In addition, foreign powers who feel responsible for all violent affairs on the globe do not idly sit back, but build themselves up as potent godfathers of the protests when it suits them. For this purpose, more or less openly, figures from the local opposition are selected or suitable candidates are exported, equipped with the material means to fight for power, and put at the front of the protest. In this respect, the protests around the world are echo chambers of the competing power interests in the country and a product of foreign instrumentalization, which allows the demonstrators to go on the march as chief witnesses of false government and spearheads against undesirable state opponents.

As soon as a “better rule” goes to work, all protests from the new or old political leadership receive the same unanimous answer: before anything else, the first thing to do is to restore an intact rule. The state addressee of the protest is the first to immediately spell out the need for a stable order and, accordingly, forcefully enforces the subordination of all those who were on the barricades a minute ago. This also makes it practically clear who is now entitled to decide the content of the system to be restored or reformed, and this is not even unfair to a protest whose call for good rule subsumes any concrete substance in the wish to finally unite those above with those below in agreement. What is now changing in the countries with regard to the valid reasons of state is decided by the political leadership which, with an unchallenged monopoly on the use of force over society, restores its freedom to exercise power, in other words, defines the new orientation of the nation, including all political, economic, and social necessities. The substance that emerges in the end is usually not very revolutionary and original, but rather obeys the usual principles and requirements of the private monetary economy in the international competition between investment locations. The discontented people are, as always, committed to their role as maneuverable masses and thus not only endure the conflicts of interests and private hardships that result from them, but also welcome the restored order as the fulfillment of their demands. Thus, all protesters – as well as non-protesters – in the country under the new, hope-giving government once again subscribe to the bleak role of constructively enduring relations of dependence. So once again “it” doesn’t change – but why should it, when “it” hasn’t been attacked at all?

Humanity has a right to good rule – according to editors who share the paradoxical ideal of a rule that serves its people and who make it the benchmark of their critical view of the world. In this way, not only well-behaved peaceful demonstrators but also radical insurgents sometimes affront public sympathy. How much violence the protest is allowed against its bad government without delegitimizing itself in the eyes of the media, and whether face masks and a few stones are seen as justified in self-defense against exceedingly harsh police violence or as a disguise and dangerous assault on the lives of police officers which gives the government good reason to officially suppress the protest – this decision by the media doesn’t simply follow from the militancy of the protest, but simply its partisanship toward the respective rule which is opposed from below. In order to judge the latter in the name of good governance, the media has its (already well-known) catalog of criteria – the fight against corruption and social inequality, as well as the observance of democratic procedures – which can be construed in the light of existing national partisanships and in view of the success versus failure of the state’s exercise of rule, in order to clarify the question of guilt and cultivate the image of the enemy as required. The local audience is sometimes told that in complex situations the military, as the last guarantor of stability and savior of democracy, is forced to remove an autocrat from office, or that leftist governments which “seduce” the population with their “social largesse” are guilty of promoting social injustice because they postpone overdue reforms in order to retain power and thus endanger the well-being of the nation on which everyone depends. This is how the media sorts through the “world in turmoil” and, in serving its authentic on-the-ground reporting, easily finds among the mass of demonstrators appropriate examples with their individual life stories that support its judgment. Nervousness spreads in the editorial offices when, in view of ongoing protests and the widespread bad luck of many peoples with their bad governments, whole regions threaten to slide into a “spiral of violence and chaos” and the “people’s trust in institutions” is endangered. Then even one’s own rule, which subscribes to good governance at home, must not ignore the distant protest calls and “just watch,” but is rather called upon to work for stability and order on the ground – by now, one owes this much support to one’s democratic conscience, i.e. humanity, in its call for good rule.

[1] This mechanism is so familiar to many protest movements, especially in the model countries of democratic popular education and politicization, that they declare the rejection of any kind of appropriation by competing politicians and social institutions to be the ethos of their movement itself. For example, the French Yellow Vests make the negative effects of current policies into the essence of their movement and want to create a common homeland for the indignant in a decidedly “apolitical” way and reject the government team – the team, not that they are governed!