I can no longer just be a theorist. I watched, sort of, the election of American fascism, literally sick to my stomach, discussing, sort of, Emersonian self-reliance, Rortyian irony, Arendtian thinking, in my office in Singapore. I was between two worlds, watching one of them from afar, sensing through the black, hibernating computer screen to the right of me, that the unlikely–not, of course, the unthinkable or unimaginable–was happening, that less than a majority of the occupants of that world, aligned with millions of others in different parts of the globe, were rejecting (rightly, if for the wrong reasons and with more than merely delusional hopes in their savior) both a neoliberal, war mongering,”centrist” liberalism, and affirming and publicly legitimizing discourses and practices of racism, homophobia, misogyny, nativism, and anti-Semitism
When asked–it is a fun game to play–what period of history I would like to have seen and participated in first hand, my unlikely answer is “interwar Central Europe”. What must it have been like to be a secularized Jew like so many of my intellectual heroes, watching modernism emerge and modernity crumble, catastrophe everywhere yet socialism a genuine possibility, studying with Berg one day and talking all night with Benjamin the next? Of course, my fantasy ends with me safely leaving Europe right before 1933.
I will never know what it was like to have lived in the world of Adorno, Benjamin, Arendt, Levinas, and so on; but I am sure that I will know what living in a world of fascism, Americanized, will be like.
It is a world the anti-democratic elements of American institutional design were constructed to prevent. Those institutions have failed us. They need to be re-imagined.
It is a world the neoliberal centrism of the Democratic party after Bill Clinton helped to bring into being. That vision of American “liberalism” has failed us and billions of others. It needs to be permanently displaced from the mainstream of American politics. Left politics needs to be, as it already has been, re-imagined. But with institutional takeover in mind.
It is a world in which many of my family and friends, and their family and friends, and their family and friends, are the objects of a now publicly legitimate discourse of hatred, violence, and terror. Militant action must be taken to silence those discourses. The right to free speech is a legal right, not a right to be heard, or taken seriously. When they speak, we must speak louder. We need to not only silence those discourses and protect the most vulnerable, with or without government help; we need to imagine modes of speech capable of transforming justified grievance into demands for justice, environmental, economic, social, and so on. Embracing fascism is only one possible response to crisis: so is, for lack of a better word, socialism. That is why we should take over the Democratic Party (they actively undermined the socialist possibility in this election). And that is also why we should offer an affirmative, just vision to those who might reject fascism if only they had another genuine possibility. But a genuine possibility requires active interventions in institutional politics as well as continuous, militant protest, alongside local social and political movements within communities across the United States and the world.
There is a great deal of theory and practice to draw and build on. We must do so.
But I hope this blog is a space where we can practice theory while we theorize practice. This is not a peer-reviewed journal. This is not going to count for our academic careers (if you are an academic). This is, I hope, a space where we can really think without bannisters in order to practice theorizing how to eradicate American fascism now that it has a president presiding over it.
I can no longer just be a theorist, if that means both that I continue to write academic articles and sit in the seats, watching the passing show. But as a theorist, I want to think through what I am doing before, as, and after I am doing it.
As we have all been thinking and saying: it is time for struggle. I no longer feel sick. Well, I feel less sick. But I can no longer just be a theorist. No longer just share things on Facebook. No longer scream at televisions. No longer just bear witness to catastrophe.
But I am a theorist. And so are you (whether employed professionally in that capacity or not). And this is where I plan to expend a great deal of theoretical energy in the coming years. And I invite you to use this space too.