I hate people who use the term “kafkaesque”, but I simply don’t know how else to describe the sort of jouissance embodied in this little nugget in a post entitled “Liberals ARE Patriotic” that I came across over at R*dst*te (I would link to the original article, but having witnessed the moderators of this blog go after academics and those with whom they disagree by posting personal information and contacting employers, I simply don’t want any attention from them). Trying to be “reasonable” by explaining how liberals conceptualize patriotism (rather than dismissing them outright as being unpatriotic… why this should be a criteria for involvement in political discourse is beyond me), the author presents the following list of democratic beliefs:

  • Liberal Ideals…

    * It is the job of the Federal Government to bring both order and fairness to society.
    Every demographic group has a right to an equal outcome.
    * Every person has the right to a living wage, to quality healthcare and to a comfortable retirement.
    * It is the responsibility of the Federal Government to take the measures it deems necessary to insure equality of outcomes.
    * Every individual has the right to live their lives without interference from other groups within the society, except where the Federal Government determines such interference is necessary in order to assure equal outcomes.
    * We must respect the right of every other nation to order their society in a way that seems right to them and we have no right, and certainly no obligation, to impose any set of “values” on another group of people.
    * The sole purpose of “diplomacy” is to understand the motivation and values of other societies and to find ways to accommodate them in order to live peacefully.
    We are just one member of the Community of Nations that make up the World.
    * All conflicts between nations must be decided by an independent third party who can rule on the issues between the various States in a manner that will best serve all States. The appropriate channels for resolution of disputes would be the United Nations and/or the World Court.
    * No nation has the right to act in their own “national interest” when such action does perceived harm to another nation’s “national interest”. In such cases, the dispute must be resolved by the UN or WC.

  • Conservative Ideals…

    * The fundamental job of the Federal Government is to protect national security.
    * Every individual should have equal opportunity based on their individual abilities.
    The Federal Government has no responsibility or inherent right to equalize outcomes or to economically provide for individuals.
    * The Federal Government should seek to implement policies which promote and reward the values of individualism and entrepreneurship.
    * It is the responsibility of individuals within the society to order their own lives and to determine how society shall be ordered.
    * In all dealings with other nations, the Federal Government must first consider the national interest of the people of this country.
    * The Federal Government must never submit to an independent third party in dispute resolution where such resolution is not in the national interest of this country.
    * A strong and effective military, and the willingness to use it, are critical to our national interest and our national survival.

Having read this author for a few years now, he’s genuinely trying to understand the liberal perspective in this post and is trying to give an accurate representation of what those on the left believe. This comparison is not intended as a parody, nor is it an intentional distortion of leftist positions.

If I’m led to describe his portrayal of liberal ideals as “kafkaesque”, then this is because the literature of Kafka always represents bureaucracy in a distorted and larger than life form, where the faces of the various functionaries are elongated and twisted in different ways, where the ledgers of the law contain pornographic pictures, where speech is incomprehensible, etc. What Kafka manages to capture is the phantasmatic dimension unconsciously underlying the subject’s relationship to bureaucratic mechanisms, where institutions are experienced as all powerful, impersonal, machines relating to the subject as objects of its jouissance. Here the bureaucracy doesn’t have the subject fill out this or that form that must then be taken to this or that office, only to be faced with filling out another form, for some pragmatic reason, but precisely because this machine draws jouissance from relating to me in this way, from making me jump through these hurdles. Similarly, when I go to the department of motor vehicles to renew my license, I am not made to wait in a long line because the process is technically slow, but rather just because the institution enjoys making me wait in long lines and exerting its control over me.

This is the dimension of fantasy as it relates to bureaucracy. I might very well know that forms take a long time to process and that the department of motor vehicles lacks the funding to upgrade its computers to speed up the process, but at the level of my unconscious experience of the institution, I cannot help but believe that the institution draws sadistic enjoyment from making me wait in this way, that the forms are purposefully designed to be confusing and misleading, that I am purposefully being made to feel that I am nothing, that I am a mere subject of the instutition’s power, with no power of my own. Try as I might to rationalize why the line is moving so slow, when I finally get before the civil servant I can’t help but be short and irritable, unable to shake myself of the belief that somehow he’s enjoying the time I lost standing in line for hours and my confused anxiety over whether or not I filled out the paperwork correctly. Unconsciously I feel like Schreber in relation to God… A subject of God’s sadistic jouissance, where God himself is completely unaware that I am a subject or have thoughts.

The structure of how this conservative experiences liberals is akin to the sort of phantasmatic universe described by Kafka. Moreover, this experience of liberals isn’t confined to the author of the post, but is echoed by a number of other conservatives that frequent the site. On the one hand, all of the ideals listed under conservatives are ideals of autonomy, where the agent retains his own freedoms and ability to determine his life, while others aren’t given advantages that they do not deserve and have not earned. On the other hand, all the ideals listed under liberals are premised on relinquishing others of their autonomy, outrightly humiliating Americans (the attitude of liberals towards the United States is portrayed as one of inherent guilt), and on unjustly giving others benefits and advantages they don’t deserve. Note, for instance, how equality is somehow shifted to equality of outcome such that liberals are saddled with the belief that no one can achieve more than others, and how they are portrayed as advocating the view that everyone should be comfortable without any work. Liberals are thus portrayed as stealing the enjoyment of those who have worked hard and of enjoying the manner in which they humiliate hard workers and the United States (as can be seen in the discussion of the role to be played by the United Nations).

What’s interesting here is that a number of self-identified liberals spoke up, criticizing this list, and pointing out the many ways in which it is inaccurate, but even when confronted with evidence to the contrary, the conservative defenders of the list said “This list is not about you, but those you support. The description is true even if it doesn’t fit you.” Thus, like Sade’s heroines, liberal jouissance is understood to remain identical and eternal in all possible universes, even when faced with counter-examples. Just as Sade’s heroines can endure the most abusive tortures and retain all their beauty– thereby marking a distinction between the sublime object of desire and its material embodiment –there’s a sublime figure of the liberal that all liberals contain even when they say otherwise.

Like Kafka’s universe, it must be horrible to live in a universe where one experiences oneself as perpetually having to defend against this theft of enjoyment. Two questions jump out to me: First, what kind of rhetorical gesture, what sort of dialogue, can target this sort of phantasmatic jouissance? It is clear that ordinary rational means of communication are impotent when faced with such fantasies as protestations to the contrary always fall on deaf ears. Second, what is it that produces such a phantasmatic experience? What unconscious deadlocks, what social antagonisms, lead one to believe something like what is stated above? What defensive function does this fantasy serve and how does it function to prolong and sustain desire?