It is the secret failing of politics that it is no longer able to think evil.
Politics is the site of the exercise of evil, of the management of evil, scattered into individual souls and collective manifestations in all its forms - privilege, vice and corruption. It is the inescapable fate of power to take this accursed share upon itself, and that of men in power to be sacrificed to it, a privilege from which they expect to derive all the secondary gains.
But practising evil is difficult and one may suppose that they are constantly trying to pass the buck in every way possible.
In the past, power was arbitrary, which corresponded to the fact that it came from elsewhere, being devolved from on high without regard for inherent qualities - being, in a sense, predestined.
Royal power was like this. Hence Louis XVI's stupefaction on being told that the insurgents wanted power. How can you want power?
It is given to you, and all you can do is exercise it, like it or not. No one can rid you of it. The idea of deposing the King is as absurd as the idea of a constitutional God.
Power is an obligation and one must not demand it, one must consent to it.
On the other hand, it is arbitrary since, for that very reason, it does not have to justify itself. The only solution was, indeed, the death of the King, that is to say, the restoration of the accursed share to the whole of society.
That each should have his or her portion of the 'accursed share' is the democratic principle. But it seems the 'citizens' do not really want to submit to this sovereign obligation and they are afraid of their own arbitrary power.
It will, then, be devolved to a few - these will be the politicians, who themselves most often have only one idea: to give it away. You have only to see them redistributing power in every possible way - on the one hand, to prove to themselves that they have it, and, on the other, to ensure that no one escapes it, for those who refuse it are dangerous. 'If I knew,' said Canetti, 'that there still are on this earth some human beings without any power I would say that nothing is lost.'
The great danger for the very existence of politics is not that human beings should compete to take power, but that they should not want it.
Those in power have a twofold problem: in the political order, the problem of wielding power; and in the symbolic order, the problem of getting rid of it.
It's exactly the same as with money: the economic problem is to earn money and make it work for you; the symbolic problem is to be rid of it at all costs, to lift that curse from yourself. And it's an almost impossible task.
You have only to see those American start-up com panic. Suddenly made rich by speculation and desperately trying to hand out donations right and left, trying to invest in all kinds of charitable trusts and foundations for promoting the arts. Alas, by some fearful curse they just make even more profit. Money takes its revenge by multiplying.
It is the same with power: in spite of all the rituals of interaction, participation and devolution, power is not soluble in exchange, and the dominated are too cunning really to take their part in it. They prefer to live in the shade of power.
So, when it comes to power or money, no absolution; the defiance remains total and the ordeal of the rich and powerful is, in this sense, inescapable. By their very privilege they are cast in the role of victims, since they are burdened with all the responsibility we have relinquished, a responsibility of which they are the stooges and mercenaries.
The 'social contract' ideally represented the portion of sovereignty citizens relinquished to the state, but nowadays we would be talking rather of the relinquished, alienated part of themselves that they rid themselves of in order to retain their sovereignty.
In the same way, more or less, as we once handed over the management of money to the Jews and the usurers, we have passed the dirty work of management and representation off to a body of people that has by that very act become accursed and untouchable, and which expects to take the profits from it in the form of 'power'.
When they describe themselves as servants of the people and the nation, they do not know how right they are. They are, in fact, the occupants of a servile - traditionally servile - function: the administration of things. May God protect and keep them!
This discredit resurfaces in the way the political class is perpetually on trial, in this endless question of lack of public confidence for which they can find no answer - a repudiation that sounds like an invitation to suicide, the only political act worthy of the name.
We dream of seeing the political class resigning en masse because we dream of seeing what a social body without a political superstructure would be like (as we dream of seeing what a world without representation would be like): a massive relief, a massive collective catharsis.
In every trial, in every public challenge to a politician or statesman, this millenarian demand (naturally always thwarted) resurfaces: the demand for a power that would speak out against itself, unmask itself, giving way to a radical, un-hoped-for and, admittedly, hopeless situation, but one from which the inextricable tangle of mental corruption would be removed.
However, this art of disappearing, this predisposition to elimination and death - which is, properly speaking, sovereignty - was long ago forgotten by politicians (they are sometimes recalled to it by the involuntary sacrifice of their lives). Their sole objective remains the renewal of their class and its privileges (?) with our most total connivence, it must be said, which is justified by the fact that they are the perverse instrument of our sovereignty.
One always hopes that the politicians will admit their uselessness, their duplicity, their corruption. One is always on the look-out for an ultimate demystification of their sayings and doings. But could we bear this? For the politician is our mask, and if we tear it off we run the risk of ending up with our responsibility painfully exposed, that very responsibility we relinquished to the politician's advantage.
Corruption: that is, indeed, the heart of the problem.
It is never an accident. It is inherent in the exercise of power and, hence, in the exercise of evil. The whole world over and wherever they come from, those who reach the nerve center of affairs are immediately transfigured by corruption and it is here that their real complicity is forged.
But the complicity does not end there - nor the essence of evil.
For the corruption of the elites is, precisely, the corruption of everyone: corruption is a collective psychodrama and, since we have the leaders we deserve, if we feel contempt for them it is only ever the reflection of the contempt we each feel for ourselves as political animals.
Doubtless we should even see corruption as one of the real rules of the game, the echo of a basic symbolic rule (different from politics and the social), which has become, above and beyond all morality, a practical, immanent and secret rule of operation. A serious question this, since it concerns the whole of public morality and connects with Mandeville's hypothesis on the supremacy of vice in the happy conduct of affairs.
The corruption of ideas is no exception.
They too follow a much more cynical, subtle trajectory than the pathways of reason, and the networks of thought that are: related bear only a distant relation to truth.
It is this cunning which means that, as soon as they are invested with power, politicians immediately turn against that which, or those who carried them to power, just as intellectuals very quickly turn against the very ideas that inspired them.
There is no point, then, tormenting oneself over this state of corruption, in which is to be seen the radicality of politics - or, in other words, from which we can read off what politics is in its symbolic dimension: namely, a sharing - out of evil.
Such is the living coin of power in a confrontation that goes way beyond representation, in a system of obligation in which I here is always a gift and a counter-gift, a lethal revenge.
This is the 'two-sidedness of corruption'. Where those in power are concerned, the aim is to corrupt the dominated, to induce in them some form or other of 'voluntary servitude'. Whereas the aim of the dominated is to corrupt the dominant precisely by their voluntary servitude, which they turn round against them like a weapon: this is the whole strategy of the masses, of the silent majorities.
Once the great and the good had the privilege of granting the pardon. Today, they want to be pardoned in their turn. They take the view that, on the basis of human rights, they are entitled to the universal compassion that had until now been the prerogative of the poor and of victims (in fact we cannot pardon them enough and they deserve all our compassion, not for reasons of rights or morality, but quite simply because there is nothing worse than being in power).
However this may be, they believe they must now stand before the moral tribunal of public opinion and even declare their corruption before it (more or less spontaneously!). They would even accuse themselves of crimes they did not commit in order to gain artificial immunity as a by-product.
But the cunning of the dominated is even subtler.
If consists not in pardoning them (you do not pardon those in power), nor in inflicting any real punishment 0f them, but in passing over their little acts of embezzlement and this faked-up spectacle with a certain indifference. And this should leave the politicians very crestfallen, as it is the' clear sign of their insignificance for everyone. Some of them have demanded to be judged and found guilty (though they are innocent, of course!). But the 'ordeal' the judges have put the politicians and the big industrialists through has in the end only restored legitimacy, recognition and an audience to people who had lost them.
Hence the strange confusion that prevails in the political sphere. For there is in the fact of this universal compassion a deep disturbance of symbolic regulation. Everywhere today we see the tormentors (pretending to) take the victim's side, showing them compassion and compensating them (as in Charles Najman's film La memoire est-elle soluble dans l'eau ... ?). This may perhaps resolve things on the moral plane, but it aggravates them at the symbolic level.
On the symbolic plane, there is only one way to pay back, and that is the counter-gift. If that is impossible, then there is vengeance, which is itself a form of counter-gift. Compassion here is useless and perverse: it merely adds to the inferiority of the victim.
On the symbolic plane there is only one way to pay back, and that is the counter-gift. If that is impossible, then there is vengeance, which is itself a form of counter-gift. Compassion here is useless and perverse: it merely adds to the inferiority of the victim.
It is the same with the media and the news sources when they put themselves in the dock and engage in self-criticism. They rob the public of the last of their rights as citizens - the right not to believe a single word they are told.
Just as advertising, by affecting a self-deprecating ironic tone, short-circuits our opportunities for deriding it. This could deterrence is at work everywhere: ' citizens ' are deprived of their right of revenge and their capacity to take upheavals.
Happily, the citizen still has the spectacle and the ironic enjoyment or that spectacle. For, if we are politically under arrest we turn at least have the spectacle of politics. It was already like reordering to Rivarol, during the French Revolution: the people did not mind making revolution, but primarily they wanted the spectacle of revolution.
Here again, then, it is naive to pity those populations that are condemned to ' the society of the spectacle'. Alienated they may be, but their servitude is double-edged. And there is here, in this combination of indifference and the enjoyment of politics as spectacle, a mischievous form of revenge.
excerpt from the book: The Intelligence of Evil or the Lucidity Pact by Jean Baudrillard
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