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Suraj Yengde

January 16th, 2023

An Architecture of our Time

0 comments | 3 shares

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Suraj Yengde

January 16th, 2023

An Architecture of our Time

0 comments | 3 shares

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

What is the future for those trying to create political and identitarian space and politics in these times – caught as they are between the long-predicted fissures of the neo-Liberal agenda and the rise of the global Right? Is it time for a still new Liberalism to emerge, or can Neo-liberalism reinvent itself, mired as it is in multiple privileges? Suraj Yengde reflects on this, and argues the case for theory and practice.

 

The ‘now’ time is an unsettling experience. With each passing moment, a new one arises; our emotions are constantly trying to catch up with the rapidly altering meaning of the world around us. Our senses are frail, and are yet to comprehend the truth. This is certainly an age of polarised partisanship where the location of loyalty has become pointed and edgy. There is no flexibility in the order of the state of mind and politics.

With two opposing ends baying for blood, the ones who want to step outside the madness of the macabre are finding it difficult to uproot the wedges that have become the technology of control and absolute power. Such fanaticism has a recipe for fascism. But with the extremes taking over the cauldron of people’s affairs, even silence seems like a failed attempt. The Left-inspired culture of protest and anarchy has got a taste of its own medicine by the Right appropriating these very technés. The adulated form of passive protest is seen in the aggravated demonstrations of cancelling opponents.

The Right is not intellectually creative. They rely on the Left’s extreme values and plagiarise them with distinct obviousness. The Left’s dogmatic preferences over state affairs have created fissures in the democratic socialist project. An outcome of these gaps has led the Right to easily assimilate the disgruntled poor, rural, agrarian and industrial mass.

Thus, in these present times, unlike in previous epochs, new metaphors of politics have juxtaposed class with identity. Identity takes many forms. It can be national, cultural, caste, racial, gender or sexuality. Politics, on the other hand, has issue-specific agendas such as climate change, neo-liberalism, market economy, hemispheric inequality, and the rights and duties of citizens. However, those responsible for political subjects have managed to make it an issue of identity. This has resulted in the commissioning of identitarian politics.

Identity-based politics was an emblem of those whose issues were relegated by the ruling élite — Right and Left, who did not want to have counter-complex engagements. As a result, the left-out mass, whose daily experiences were a topic of humiliation and harassment, found a way to encode their experiences as a political enterprise. Thus, race, caste, gender, or sexuality became power-points of broader coalitions.

These very ideals developed over a century of theorising and protest now find space in the mainstream. The erstwhile outcastes of societies made their politics a possibility of the future. Sensing this rise, Rights and Liberals have gauged the political viability of emotions and stories. Case studies have become a manifesto for politics rather than drawing policies.

The extremes mimic each other in creating a distraught mass, giving rise to frustration. As a result, many ideologies that work on the periphery of extremes have alienated themselves. So, what could be the potential response to what Eric Hobsbawm referred to as an ‘Age of Extremes’ in ‘times of fixated binaries’. Is it the Liberal order that wants to find malleable solutions without disturbing the order, finding ways within the archetype of structures?

The Liberal’s Golden Days

The titans of the doctrines of Liberty envisioned the political doctrine to assimilate into social codes. Liberty needs the support of the trinity — equality, fraternity, and religion. If these are not taken in whole, it gives rise to an incompetent state which risks manufacturing a certain archetype of patronising élites or damning meritocracy.

Liberals of the present era view the growing divisiveness as anti-Liberal. Freedom, dialogue, security, state, law, and secular values act as a bedrock to the standards of Liberalism. In Locke’s worldview of Liberalism, it is freedom from non-dependability on the other man. In Mill’s conception, Liberalism stated not with the market and private owners. John Rawls is perhaps the model of evolutionary liberal philosophers. His idea of social justice was intended to arrange society in a way that advances the least well-to-do groups on the principles of reciprocity which ensures no group is exploiting another at the cost of their economic status. In short, the Liberal doctrine formalises the contract between the state and the governed, basing it on the Constitution and judicial system. The division between antecedent Liberalism, new Liberalism and neo-Liberalism is epochal. Liberalism in its current avatar has found ways to stay relevant, at times dominant in the identity and ideology of the state.

Ownership of property as liberty is cardinal to the order of Liberalism. People’s right to own and sell their labour is consistent with the ideal of antecedent/old Liberalism. Government interventions in matters of one’s rights to employment and industry are considered encroaching upon the freedom of liberties. This ideal came about in an environment of repressive or controlling state orders — either communist or fascists.

Welcome, Neo-Liberalism!

The motifs of liberties discussed above gain a foothold in capital-holding communities that prefer liberties as a confident way to advance economic sources. This, for them, becomes a way to align with their manifested personality and social identity. Even taxation is deemed essential because it guarantees the protection of property and freedom. Classical Liberalism had a vested interest in the individual. But liberalism also saw variants within it, with some advocating for increased state intervention while others argued for governmental role in social welfare programs.

The new Liberalism advocated for active social justice initiatives. This was at a time (early 20th century) when state intervention was producing effective results and the charge of the communist, the monarchical, and the colonial administration was no longer positive. After the Second World War, as new states began forming, they were also reassessing their role in the race for development while at the same time balancing the act of social welfare and justice. With western institutions’ increasing position in the redevelopment of fallen states in Europe, Asia and Africa, new markets were cracked open. The formation of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank acted as effective models to channel the economy with ideology and culture. Welcome, Neo-liberalism.

Neo-liberalism became a mantra of state ideology for developing nations. The markets that were closed opened to foreign capital. Under the banner of ‘development’ and politics, money was made to guide the culture of the nation. With foreign capital coming in via trade and aid, it gave an upper hand to the monied hands at home and abroad.

Neo-liberalism had no hesitation in advocating and promoting individual liberty and freedom via the market because governments were seen as unnecessary bureaucratic towers delaying the work with processual governmentality. In fact, governments were seen as corrupt havens to be destroyed by the handlers in the state — the untrustworthy politicians and greedy bureaucrats. Markets, on the contrary, were seen as secular, rational forces that could easily administer rights and ensure the freedom of liberty because it had the capacity to find ways while governments were those that discouraged innovation. Markets were trusted to change the economic metric of poverty. Thus, anyone intervening in it was unwelcome and would be seen as being against people’s liberties and freedom.

This ideology slowly perpetuated in the culture of society where profits and a certain capital development were seen to advance one’s own life. The culture of society was also made to adjust to this new, modern, advanced wave of thinking. The dominant role of Western capitalist societies found a way into the cleavages of non-Western societies that were embracing Neo-liberalism. This sudden acceptance of the new ideological coin aided by technology and social media created new identities in societies that see such an intervention as meddling in the affairs of one’s own culture.

Identity and Ideology: The Salad

The challenge with the ideology debate, as opposed to identity, is that ideology can be changed but identity is a semi-permanent stamp registered in documents called Identity Cards. Many subalterns who commit to the agenda of the Right- or Left-wing establishment cater to the needs of the élites within these paradigms; they become loyal peddlers of the agenda that offer them compensatory benefits. Their stride and enthusiasm are used by offensive forces who are in the government to further the élites’ interest. Their acceptance into the fold of their community, whom they betrayed, is met with suspicion. Alongside, the poor among the dominant identities of the populace find it convincing to draw benefits from the cultural factors that reign their imagination of good life. This group does not get questioned on morality and politics. Their level of social identity is so bearable and predictable that it does not arouse fits of moral anger because of its lowered expectations.

The multiple Identity Card-carrying publics in the West are also assembled in this nefarious, divisive agenda. Priti Patel, former Home Secretary of the British government, justified degrading treatment towards (‘illegal’) immigrants. In her own Conservative Party, the young Muslim, Hindu, Christian posh accent-speaking brown élites can be found rallying to the Party’s mandate. The latest in this is the newly-selected British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, and his Cabinet colleague Suella Braverman, espousing their ethnic identity-based points to undermine the cause of the identified demography.

What is essential to understand here is that identity politics is not about the politics of the unrepresented, rather it is about the opportunity of the convicted. Neo-liberal goals are not untouched by any major political force anywhere in the world; Neo-liberalism has triumphed to create in-doors and is now running the government. The brown identity in the white majority is another scam that does not foreground either’s history concretely.

Even here in the United Kingdom, élites like Rishi Sunak are seen laughing about not having any friends from the working class. Brown parents will be the first to enlist their children in white zones while deranging the black colour demography. This behaviour is not limited to brown people either; the black African nouveau riche is desperate to seek attention to find any takers in this development.

Thus, the question remains: how is identity politics ameliorating the character of social justice and creating more occasions for the marginalised to find space and voice? And is it turning into an identitarian politics in this process? Taking a call on various conceptions of Liberty, Isaiah Berlin commented that coercion or enslavement was contrary to political liberty. However, he cautioned against maximising the tenor of coercion which could take on an eccentric identity, meaning certain values need to be thought of as a ‘society–communal’, which would then produce the ideals of liberty. ‘Coercion implies the deliberate interference of other human beings […] if you are prevented from attaining a goal by human beings’, which Berlin refers to in his thesis on ‘negative freedom’. However, in times when self-coercion has become a flagpost for negotiating space for one to go unchallenged, that coercion is turning into law by undermining the quantum of demographic democracy. Is it then not the ideal liberty wherein individual values are protected?

The global Right has given an option to those ideas that may sound ridiculous in its vision. For example, faith in a theocratic nation was a long-forgotten cause. But due to the upmanship of religious forces, erstwhile antagonistic forces have resolved to mutually support each other.

Can we not choose from the two extremes of polarising ends the one which does not claim neutrality … but the options to resist are just out of the bounds for an average thinking person?

Top-down Decolonisation

The version of decolonialisation that has been propagated is through élite understandings of the nation and its political economy. Such a project was doomed to be appropriated by elements willing to cargo their desire of nationalism as class-centric and purist in nature. The Right-wing establishment in the world, or the neo-Liberal mechanisms, have conveniently usurped the nationalist sentiment of decolonisation to push for nefarious politics punishing humans rather than the system.

An emergence of a global Right seems like a viable option. By its very creed, the Right wing is ethnocentric and parochial in nature. However, by fiddling with the loose canons of the Left outpour, the Right has done what it does best — stoke fears based on stolen ideas.

The Right wing’s unintelligent stature inspires its poor, working class base because they see a call for rebellion and revolution. By creating emotions based on myths and sanctifying otherwise moribund conservatives, the Right has deployed religion, caste, race, ethnicity, gender and sexuality to portend a paradoxical neo-global Right template. These establishments now seek to create solidarities and alliances that will help to promote their agenda. Ironically, a Right-wing victory in Italy is widely celebrated by the Right in India. Otherwise hating anything Italian (like the attitude towards Sonia Gandhi), the Indian Right has congratulated the new dispensation led by the far-right Giorgia Meloni on her recent victory as Italy’s Prime Minister, where the Left and Green parties were dusted to a marginal 3.6 per cent of the votes.

One of the principal pitfalls with the new culture of politics and social dogma has arisen from the gravitas of the activism of the marginalised being co-opted by the Liberal-educated élite. They draw heavily from the knowledge and resources developed by the outcastes of society. The process of formation of knowledge, and counter-argument, has had to undergo a process. However, now that these readymade theories are available, they are up for grabs by those whose position in justice and activism is otherwise in question.

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As a result of these identity-ideology projects, extremities are drawn out like swords to eliminate a potential contender. In this case, alternatives are sought after but will these build new solidarities? Liberalism as an ideological conglomeration can offer a suggestive response but an answer to this question is still far.

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The views expressed here are those of the author and not of the ‘South Asia @ LSE’ blog, the LSE South Asia Centre or the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Banner image © Aron Visuals, ‘Eventually everything hits the bottom, and all you have to do is wait until someone comes along, and turns it back again.’, 2017, Unsplash.

The ‘India @ 75’ logo is copyrighted by the LSE South Asia Centre, and may not be used by anyone for any purpose. It shows the national flower of India, the Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera [Gaertn.]), framed in a graphic design of waves, and spindles depicting depth of water. The logo has been designed by Oroon Das.

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About the author

Suraj Yengde

Dr Suraj Yengde is studying for his DPhil at the University of Oxford, is Research Associate in the Department of African and African American Studies, Harvard University, author of ‘Caste Matters’ (2019), co-editor of ‘The Radical in B. R. Ambedkar: Critical Reflections’ (2018) and Founder of the Dalit Film Festival, New York. This blogpost is discussed further in his ‘Caste: A New History of the World’ (forthcoming, 2023).

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