Fighting the “Real” Enemy: Fantasizing the Liberal “Final Solution”
by Peter Bloom
This issue of the LSS Newsletter presents the Second Part of Peter Bloom's paper, consisting of the sections below:
V. Fighting the 'Real' Enemy
VI. The Liberal Final Solution
VII. Conclusion
About the Author

Dr. Peter Bloom is a lecturer in the Department of People and Organisations at the Open University. His primary research interests include ideology, subjectivity and power, specifically as they relate to broader discourses and everyday practices of capitalism and democracy. He is currently completing a manuscript entitled Authoritarian Capitalism in the Age of Globalization to be published by Edward Elgar Press.

V. Fighting the ‘Real’ Enemy:
Approaching a Paranoid Liberalism

As a normative political philosophy, Liberalism famously espouses the importance of tolerance and inclusiveness. Yet alongside such values lies a deep sense of paranoia. Indeed, at the heart of its philosophy resides a clear rejection and anxiety regarding ‘non-liberal’ beliefs and regimes. This threat transcends simple rational disagreements. As Shklar (2004) argues, the philosophical origins of Liberalism can be found in its emotional fear of ‘cruelty’ and arbitrary rule.

While this fear may be attractive politically, it also represents the paranoia underlying liberalism as an affective ideology and source of identification. Significantly, throughout its history this psychological ‘fear’ has been transferred onto a deep anxiety regarding the ever present danger posed by the ‘enemies’ of Liberalism.

According to Prozorov (2006), Liberalism relies on an “ultra-politics of the foe” which “proceeds through the elucidation of the paradoxes of the political ontology of liberalism, which permit the exclusion of the ‘enemy of liberalism' as an inhuman being, whose existence is `contrary to nature.”

In the cold war, the Soviet Union served as a unifying enemy for psychologically binding together individuals into a common democratic identity domestically and internationally. This reflected a deeper Liberal fantasmatic narrative, whose roots can be found in the early 20th century, which drew upon the threat of a ‘totalitarian’ other for its legitimacy and appeal. This non-liberal enemy is a central element for the construction and stabilizing of the liberal democratic self.

An exhaustive account of Liberalism philosophically and liberal democracy politically exceeds the scope of this paper. Yet these modern US political narratives are nevertheless telling. They reflect the reliance on an enemy other who must be fought against for the construction of a liberal democratic identity. Moreover, each enemy represents similar desires of their participants to use a compelling paranoid narratives to achieve ‘psychic mastery’ over past traumas threatening the sense of self.

VI. The Liberal Final Solution

Liberal pathology is borne out in historic policies of extermination, as well as current demonizations of an ‘enemy’ other. At stake is not to engage in moral equivalence— but to permit for a challenging of liberal exceptionalism, and in the process a more nuanced understanding of the continuing function of paranoia and enemy creation for contemporary politics.

As Friedberg (2000) notes, analogous to the Nazi’s own justifications for the Final Solution, in the United States heroes were made of men whose words were inspired by the same kind of thinking—and “whose actions resulted in the murder of millions of human beings considered members of ‘inferior’ civilizations.” Indeed it is reported that Hitler himself “expressed admiration for the 'efficiency' of the American genocide campaign against the Indians, viewing it as a forerunner for his own plans and programs” (Stannard).

At the beginning of the 20th century President Theodore Roosevelt evocatively described US history as

one of expansion. That the barbarians recede or are conquered, with the attendant fact that peace follows their retrogression or conquest is due solely to the power of the mighty civilized races which have not lost the fighting instinct, and which by their expansion are gradually bringing peace to the red wastes where the barbarian peoples of this world hold sway.

Witnessed, in this regard, is how the US employed an at once utopian and paranoid affective narrative to legitimate the eradication of a perceived threatening population. Just as significant perhaps is the continued significance of this narrative fetish for attempting to achieve ‘psychic mastery’ in regards to this event. US official discourse often suffers from a severe case of ‘imperial amnesia’ concerning its genocidal history—manifested in past and present narratives of ‘American Exceptionalism’.

More precisely, it is characterized by an ongoing ‘story’ whereby the US and its allies must defeat and eliminate ‘anti-liberal enemies’—so that liberalism may ultimately triumph. This narrative can be viewed across the American political spectrum, from Clinton’s appeal for a ‘New American Century’ to Bush’s neo-conservative call for spreading democracy globally to Obama’s continued demand for a ‘new era of American Leadership’.

Amidst their differences, they retain a shared commitment to ‘the defense of human rights around the world through intervention’. In the words of one American advocate of empire, “what is needed is a new kind of imperialism, one compatible with human rights and cosmopolitan values: an imperialism which aims to bring order and organization, but which rests today on the voluntary principle”.

Remaining essential to this vision is the demonized figure of the ‘anti-liberal’ enemy. (Harris 2004) captures this continued fixation with a threatening other within Liberal discourses in his declaration that present day liberal subjects to easily ‘forget’ the dangers that Liberal democracy faces from its enemies, maintaining that

they forget that in time of danger, in the face of the enemy, they must trust and confide in each other, or perish. They forget, in short, that there has ever been a category of human experience called the enemy.

The 2001 terrorist attacks brought this fantasmatic discourse into renewed prominence, as the Islamic terrorist came to symbolize a dramatic villain whose eradication would ensure that Liberal democracy, and with it ‘freedom and prosperity for all’, would emerge victorious.

Even those like Berman (2001) who advocated a more restrained approach, calling for the coupling of a military response with a broader ‘war on ideas’, maintained that the attacks were driven by an ‘irrational’ and ‘fantasmatic’ hatred of the US due to its commitment to liberty and democracy. Required, therefore, was the complete elimination of Islamic fundamentalism either by arms or ideological persuasion.

More critically, Cloud (2004) explored how images of Afghan women during the initial invasion of Afghanistan played on themes of a ‘clash of civilization’ and “white man’s burden” that evoked “a paternalistic stance toward the women of Afghanistan, and the figuration of modernity as liberation”.

According to Giroux (2010) “The self-assigned moral imperative to ‘rid the world of evil’ comes increasingly to mean a declaration of war on a world of Others racially conceived, a project that invariably ends in the will to self-destruction.” This translates into a seemingly eternal “war without end(s)” that “are distinguished precisely by the fact that they cannot be grasped as strategically framed political conflicts” (Chandler 2009). In this respect, the final solution seemingly remains strong yet unfinished, evoked in the present age by a US superpower in the name of liberal democracy.

VII. Conclusion

The Final Solution has, thus, left a lasting historical legacy on the present. Specifically, the paranoid psychology driving it remains prevalent and to an extent undiminished within the current politics of liberal democracy. While its human cost may arguably be considered unprecedented, its pathological hatred of enemies and the stabilizing of identity around their eradication still influences contemporary political narratives the world over and across the ideological spectrum.

Reflected is a universal framework for constructing identity in relation to a dominant ideology—one revolving around the affective narrative centering on the need to eliminate a menacing other for realizing a romanticized fantasy of the future. It is a paranoia whose historical roots both preceded and have continue to thrive long after the horrors of the holocaust.