The Beautiful Soul of the Intellectual
The question that we are taking up with the Forum in Turin is central in the debate for the construction of Europe today. Which democracy? There is in fact not just one democracy that would come already formatted by the laws and the recourse to the Constitution of each country. There is a plurality of desires for democracy, some more decided than others, which come into play like a politics of the symptom impossible to treat with the sole recourse of juridical law. It is said and repeated, especially in relation to the events that currently taking place in Catalonia and in Spain, that the maintenance of democracy is a matter not of a merely juridical question but rather of a political question, of a necessary dialogue on the basis of legitimate positions as long as they do not violate the fundamental civic rights of freedom of expression and of thought.
In this politics where the master signifiers are put in play, the position of the Hegelian beautiful soul also turns out to be decisive.
The beautiful soul, that Hegelian figure that complains about the disorder that it itself provokes, is the daily bread of politics. The beautiful soul is not in fact a politics, it is a strategy that is used to submit politics to the inhibition of the act, as much on the right as on the left. One thus has to appeal to the responsibility of each subject, of the subject that is consequence of its acts, not the subject to which good intentions are always attributed, in order to make this subject speak and to listen to it in an analytic way. When the politician alludes to his always good intentions one has to remind him of the following: one is only responsible in the measure of one’s know-how, the affirmation of Jacques Lacan that should be the compass of any democratic conversation that wishes to be consequent in its acts. This is the ethics of consequences in contrast to the ethics of intentions. From each, according to the responsibility that their position demands. To each, according to the consequences of their act, that of their know-how. Today this no doubt seems a very high ideal by which to measure not just the action of the politician but also the political choice that public opinion supposes in each instance, that of the journalist, of each citizen, of the so-called intellectual, whether they be of the right or of the left. And also that of the psychoanalyst, called on like anyone else to take sides… on a non-partisan basis. This is a difficult choice when politics is more a question of party politics and not of each politician taken one by one as the subject of their act. Parties, but also the media, tend necessarily to efface the consequences of the singular political act of each subject. This is on account of the inertia intrinsic to the interests of the one or the other.
I am led to give this introduction in order to comment on a position that I have been hearing over the past weeks in public opinion in relation to the “Catalonia symptom” in the Spanish State and the conflicts that surround the calling of the referendum of October 1st along with the whole context that accompanies it. I am speaking about the position maintained by certain groups of intellectuals, one that I have also read in an article by the always appreciated Jordi Évole, well-known Catalan journalist, in his article in the Barcelona newspaper “El Periodico” from 18th September 2017 entitled “Deterioration”. In this article he proposes a supposed equality of legitimacies: “Having arrived at this point, is it legitimate to be critical of the reaction of the [Spanish] State, and with the same legitimacy to be in disagreement with the calling of this referendum [by the Catalan government of the Generalitat]? I believe that it is. And I can assure you that a great many, the silent majority, are of this opinion. They proceed with caution because as the date approaches the more they are required to take up a position. And the middle ground is not an option.”
The “reaction of the State” in the past days is one of a clear and explicit repression of the rights of democratically elected political representatives, of the media, and finally of civil liberties, as has been recognised by various European Deputies and officials of the United Nations Organisation itself. This repressive reaction has been measured under the circumstances but it is nonetheless a repression that immediately brings to mind the worst times of Francoism. It is already obvious that it will not halt at anything if no-one stands up to it in a decided way. The “calling of the referendum”, supported by an ample majority of the Catalan population, has in effect been decided. But it neither can nor wishes to resort to the same repressive means in order to defend itself.
Having arrived at this point it has to be said that no, it is not legitimate to put the two positions on the same footing, with an appearance of democratic equidistance – sacred “equidistance”. Just as it is not legitimate to attribute to the supposed silent majority a homogenous position which would have to be questioned, one by one, in their responsibility as citizens. Silence is equivocal, and is always used by those who believe themselves to be master of words: it could be the silence of the fearful but also that of those complicit with the repression unleashed by power. The beautiful soul thus always believes itself to be master of its silence before resorting to speech… until it speaks. And yes, at this point the middle ground is not an option because they too, even if in a moderate and inhibited manner, inscribe the necessary decision of the political act.
In such a way that putting the most crude repression and the claims of the majority on an equal footing, no matter how much one is in disagreement with the one or the other, or with both at the same time, is today as dangerous and inconsequent as was putting on equal footing radically heterogeneous political positions in French politics earlier this year. We recall the “de-demonisation” of Marine Le Pen and French public opinion being led to an inertia that almost allowed the National Front to run away with the foundations of the French Republic. Various intellectuals elevated to the category of personalities, on the right as well as the left, found themselves trapped in this apparently democratic position of giving Marine Le Pen and her clearly racist and xenophobic position a place on equal footing, as democracy obliges, with the representatives of other political parties. It was necessary to come out decidedly in order to unmask the strategy of the wolf in sheep’s clothing and to denounce clearly the great danger that the fascism hidden in the discourse of Le Pen entailed. Even though this meant voting for the right, it was the only viable way of taking a stand at that moment.
The error of good faith could be unforgiveable here: in Spain, the discourse of racism and xenophobia, the most out-dated Francoism that nonetheless appears to be still alive, continues in an underhand way to mark the politics of the democratic right. The blindness of the beautiful soul could find itself in this way giving succour to the worst of masters by giving him a place on the basis of the supposed equidistance between parties, without paying attention to the subject of the politician who puts the strategy of his position before the subject responsible for his know-how and who could win the day without ceremony.
One always has to ask the Hegelian beautiful soul to take responsibility for his know-how, for the consequences of his act, even when these are not known or are not made known in an explicit manner.
Barcelona, 1st October 2017
Translated by Roger Litten
New Lacanian School
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