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Théorie critique de la propagande

 | 
Pierre-François Noppen
, 
Gérard Raulet

The fascist laugh

Propaganda and cynical rationality in Adorno

Vladimir Safatle

Texte intégral

  • 1 Jean-François Lyotard, Des dispositifs pulsionnels, Paris, Galilée, 1994, p. 121. Unless otherwise (...)

1At the dawn of postmodernity and amid a controversy over Adorno’s philosophy of music, Jean-François Lyotard stated: “We have, in relation to Adorno, the advantage of living in a more energetic, more cynical, less tragic capitalism. It puts everything in representation, representation is reduplicated (as in Brecht), so it presents itself. The tragic gives way to the parodic […].”1 Without going straight to the point about the alleged obsolescence of Adorno’s thought due to this new historical diagnosis, let us say that Lyotard’s statement had at least the merit of presenting a larger mutation in the forms of life and their processes of legitimation that has been felt until now. It was figured in this strange passage from a “tragic” capitalism to a “cynical.” This passage leads us to ask what these two terms might mean in this context. A programmatic answer would be: instead of the tragedy of a socio-economic system that at all times worked by hiding the fetish character of its value-determining processes in all spheres of social life, the tragedy of a system that cannot assume what it really is by grounding himself in the ideological repression of its presuppositions, we would have the cynicism of practices capable of reduplicating its own system of representations, taking a Brechtian distance from what they say themselves, as in an eternal parody. Lyotard was even clearer in this regard when he stated in the same text:

  • 2 Jean-François Lyotard, Des dispositifs pulsionnels, Paris, Galilée, 1994, p. 130.

“While capital upholds, in life and art, the law of value as separation, saving, cutting, selection, protection, privatization—it undermines at the same time the value of the law and everywhere. It forces us to see it as arbitrary, prevents us from believing it. It is a buffoon […]. Criticism cannot go beyond this buffoonery.”2

  • 3 Jean-François Lyotard, Des dispositifs pulsionnels, Paris, Galilée, 1994, p. 16.

2This is why “[c]apitalism offers nothing to believe, cynicism is its morality.”3 The statement could not be more direct. The strength of capitalism would come from the fact that it no longer takes itself seriously, since it would undermine at all times the value of the law which it itself enunciates. Capitalism would no longer require any kind of blind belief in the normative contents it presents. Belief in a secure principle of indexation between criteria with universal aspiration validity and practical situations. That is, we could all distance ourselves from the normative contents of the capitalist ideological universe because the very discourse of power already laughs from itself. However, and this point is most important, this apparent lack of legitimacy would be the true core of its strength. Its crisis of legitimacy would be its motor core.

3Thus, Lyotard pointed not only to the moment when capitalist societies began to go through a general crisis of legitimation, but to the moment in which they were able to legitimize themselves through a certain “cynical rationality,” and thereby stabilize a situation that would be otherwise a typical and unsustainable situation of crisis. As I said, this makes all the difference, especially if we take seriously the diagnosis that “criticism is powerless to go beyond this buffoonery.”

4For the impotence of criticism would be the result of capitalism’s ability to cynically carry out criticism. Before we better understand the structure of this inversion process, it is ironic to find in Adorno exactly the awareness of this constitutive cynicism of the contemporary regime of capitalism and its ideological structure. Further proof of the mismatch in the mutual reception processes between contemporary French and German thought. It is therefore worth starting by insisting on some fundamental aspects of Adorno’s discussion of ideology.

Adorno and the laugh that comes from power

5A first point must be clarified here. The careful reading of some of Adorno’s central texts shows us his effort to think, for the configuration of the mobiles of ideology, the obsolescence of categories such as: false consciousness, reification, ignorance, error and illusion. This results from the requirement to think the impact of historical changes on the configuration of the concept of ideology. At this point, Adorno is clear:

  • 4 Theodor W. Adorno, Gesammelte Schriften, Vol. VIII: Soziologische Schriften I, edited par Rolf Tied (...)

“In the strict sense, ideology is present where what governs are power relations (Machtvehältnisse) not transparent in themselves, mediated and, in this sense, even attenuated. But today’s society, mistakenly accused of excessive complexity, has turned into something too transparent (durchsichtig).”4

  • 5 Theodor W. Adorno, Gesammelte Schriften, Vol. VIII: Soziologische Schriften I, edited by Rolf Tiede (...)

6That is, in a way, the current challenge would be to think the concept of ideology in light of transparent power relations. This requirement confronts us with a complex task. For when what prevails are immediate power relations as such, there is no need to speak of “ideology,” since “ideology is justification (Rechtfertigung):”5 it is an operation through which empirical situations are made conform to the expectations of validity required by the universalizing aspirations of reason. It thus demands that power be mediated by reflection on its legitimacy, a mediation that would lead power, for example, to mask its true assumptions where they cannot be placed without contradiction. It is even the recognition of such expectations of validity in every ideological construction that leads Adorno to insist on the existence of a rational element always present in ideology. In this way, the critique of ideology could operate in these interstices where the symptom nodes are evident, where one reads the contradiction between the procedures of justification and the effectiveness. Criticism would do nothing but show how ideological construction in a way does not realize its own concept.

7However, what about a situation in which transparency itself seems to be the central engine for the upholding of ideology, that is, a situation in which the assumptions of power are clearly contradicted, but this does not produce a reorientation of the conduct of subjects? It is not simply a question of thinking power relations sustained in the dissymmetry of force. On the contrary, it is a question of understanding how the contemporary regime of transparency of power is capable of fulfilling requirements of validity and legitimacy, transforming the posited contradiction into a resolved contradiction. To this end, the first step is to realize that this “nakedness that doesn’t unmask” can only be understood by identifying, acting at its core, a certain type of irony. As if the contemporary regime of ideology could only be described through a previous reflection on irony.

  • 6 In a way, this notion of comics linked to the inadequacy of appearance is still present in Bergson, (...)

8This is at first a point that seems inconsistent because we all know the multiple figures of irony as the ultimate weapon of enlightenment in the rhetorical constitution of criticism. One of the mobiles most used by enlightened critics was laughter as a way of exposing the impostures of power. It is already clearly present in the cynics of ancient Greece who, radicalizing Socratic irony, made laughter the centerpiece of criticism. Consider, for example, Diogenes’ sarcasm against what would be hypocritical in the logic that would guide superstitions, morals, and politics. Here we see, among other things, the notion of laughter as a figure of criticism that seeks to disqualify and unmask the appearance sustained by one who is mocked. This classic theory of laughter as an unmasking of appearance may explain why the vices that appear laughable in this context are mainly hypocrisy and vainglory, not perversion. For hypocrisy and vainglory express the inadequacy between the dimensions of appearance and essence, which is not exactly the case with perversion, whose absence of naturalness is presented as such.6

  • 7 Theodor W. Adorno, Minima Moralia, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 1980 [1969], p. 280.
  • 8 Theodor W. Adorno, Minima Moralia, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 1980 [1969], p. 280 sq.

9But this notion of irony finds no resonance in Adorno. The point is well illustrated in aphorism 134 of the Minima Moralia, entitled “The Juvenal Error,” the same Juvenal who stated: difficile est satyras non scribere. In this aphorism, irony, especially that which appears in the form of satire, is understood as a reaction of power to the imperatives of change, because the satire’s prime target is usually the “decay of manners.”7 The criticism that uses irony would be linked to the logic of conservation because its guiding criterion “is always the criterion threatened by progress; it remains presupposed as the prevailing ideology, so much so that the rule-breaking phenomenon is rejected without the justice of a rational discussion.”8 It would thus be guided by an “immanent transcendental agreement,” a common sense never called into question.

  • 9 In this regard, see Quentin Skinner, “Hobbes and the Classical Theory of Laughter,” in: Tom Sorell (...)
  • 10 Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, edited by Richard Tuck, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1996, p. 4 (...)

10As a matter of fact, Adorno is recovering a important theme from the classical theory of laughter concerning the normative character of humor and its logic of conservation.9 A bit as if Adorno’s view should be understood in the continuation of statements such as Hobbes’s proposition that laughter would be a sanction against “deviance,” a reaction provoked by “the apprehension of some deformed thing in another, by comparison whereof they suddenly applaud themselves.”10

11However, Adorno is doing more than this. If he does not seek to insist on the links between irony and enlightened criticism it is because Adorno understands that irony continues to function at the heart of power, but not as a call for a kind of transcendental intersubjective agreement “that admits of no contestation” about norms and values. In fact, it appears as a “universal agreement on content (inhaltlich universales Einverständnis)”, that is, as a strange impossibility of overcoming what is present into effectiveness (Wirklichkeit). Thus, it is no longer a question of thinking of irony as a way of appealing to an intersubjectively shared truth that transcends the ironized situation. Rather, it is a question of thinking a strange irony that would sustain effectiveness by mocking those who seek to mock it.

  • 11 Theodor W. Adorno, Gesammelte Schriften, Vol. VIII: Soziologische Schriften I, Frankfurt a. M., Suh (...)
  • 12 Theodor W. Adorno, Gesammelte Schriften, Vol. VIII: Soziologische Schriften I, Frankfurt a. M., Suh (...)

12It is in this sense that we must understand Adorno’s central statement that “the difference between ideology and reality (Wirklichkeit) has disappeared.”11 This disappearance doesn’t merely register the fact that the contradictions which the ideology seeks to justify are constitutive processes of the reality, and not the result of the inadequacy between idea and reality. Otherwise Adorno would be doing little more than rehearsing some of the later Marx’s views—such as the Marxist idea that fetishism was not exactly an illusion of false consciousness but a kind of “objective contradiction,” that is, contradiction stemming from the object itself. Instead, in affirming that the difference between ideology and reality has disappeared, Adorno calls to mind that, in contemporary times, ideology asserts itself as such in reality, without changing the subjects’ engagement. He insists on the existence of a certain relationship of duplication (Verdoppelung) between ideology and reality, in order to remember that: “ideology is no longer a cover (Hülle), but the threatening acceptance (Antlitz) of the world.”12

  • 13 Theodor W. Adorno, Gesammelte Schriften, Vol. VIII: Soziologische Schriften I, Frankfurt a. M., Suh (...)

13Let us also remember that this transparency should not be understood as a direct realization of the expectations of justification present in ideology. It only indicates that the subjects act here as false enlightened consciousnesses, that is, as consciousnesses that have reflexively unveiled the assumptions that determine their “alienated” actions (since they clearly know what reality is). Hence, they may have a “beliefless belief (glaubenslosen Glauben)”13 in mere existence. Something resulting from a reality that already carries its own criticism in itself.

From fascism to the marriage of Beatriz of the Netherlands

14This strange belief devoid of belief can only be understood if we consider how ideology is currently capable of setting in motion a process of ironization of reality that responds in a peculiar way to demands of justification. This will allow us to see that the question posed by Lyotard in speaking of a buffoonish capitalism had already been raised by Adorno, but at the time of his studies on fascism. For him, fascism was, in a way, the laughter that comes from power. We can say this because the “carnivalesque” character of fascist ideology, its parody character which absorbs at the same time seemingly contradictory ideological contents such as the peasant bond to the land and the futuristic cult of industry would be, according to Adorno, the secret of its strength. Everything was appearance put into appearance, and, most important of all, this was well known. Adorno insists that no one believed in the mythology of fascism, not even its spokesmen, but “its belief”—that is, the responsibility of belief was always sent to an Other, a kind of “subject-supposed-to-believe.” Here, it is impossible to resist quoting in full Adorno’s passage devoted to precisely this analysis:

  • 14 Theodor W. Adorno, “Freudian Theory and the Pattern of Fascist Propaganda” [1951], in: Gesammelte S (...)

“Just as little as people believe in the depth of their hearts that the Jews are the devil, do they completely believe in the leader. They do not really identify themselves with him but act this identification, perform their own enthusiasm, and thus participate in their leader's performance. It is through this performance that they strike a balance between their continuously mobilized instinctual urges and the historical stage of enlightenment they have reached, and which cannot be revoked arbitrarily. It is probably the suspicion of this fictitiousness of their own ‘group psychology’ which makes fascist crowds so merciless and unapproachable. If they would stop to reason for a second, the whole performance would go to pieces, and they would be left to panic.”14

  • 15 This Adornian reading of fascism as a parody may make use of the fact that neither Hitler nor Musso (...)

15As if fascism performed the celebrated saying of Saint-Just: “Celui qui plaisante à la tête du gouvernement tend à la tyrannie.”15 Each of the ideas here must be taken seriously. First, the notion of an ironic identification leads the subjects to “represent their own enthusiasm,” an “as if” that disarticulates the classical distinction between “enthusiasm” and “disenchantment,” and which no longer requires subjects to identify symbolically with socially ideal types. It was a bit as if the power that laughed at itself demanded that the subjects ironize their own social roles at all times.

  • 16 Theodor W. Adorno, “Freudian Theory and the Pattern of Fascist Propaganda” [1951], in: Gesammelte S (...)
  • 17 Theodor W. Adorno, “Freudian Theory and the Pattern of Fascist Propaganda” [1951], in: Gesammelte S (...)

16At this point we can better understand Adorno’s seemingly strange statements such as: “The so-called psychology of fascism is largely engendered by manipulation.”16 A “manipulation” of the unconscious, an “expropriation” of the unconscious by social control or even “appropriation of mass psychology” by the leader, as Adorno will say in “Freudian Theory and the Pattern of Fascist Propaganda.”17 Such terms, taken out of context, may lead us to think that Adorno operates within the logic of ideological masking or even of ideology as a kind of illusion of false consciousness. This would be wrong regarding Adorno. For no other reason the central concept for understanding fascist “manipulation” in the text in question is phoniness: a term that indicates the position of a falsehood that affirms itself ironically. This is absolutely central: for Adorno, fascist authoritarian leaders are phonies. In this sense, the innerworkings of manipulation regimes will only become clear if we answer the question: how and why does the subject invest in social ties with phonies? A question that obeys the Adornian imperative to criticize ideology not through the refutation of theses or through the identification of performative contradictions, but through the analysis of dispositions (Dispositionen) of conduct that ideology intends to produce in subjects. That is, we must understand what form of life is presupposed by this ideological discourse.

17However, before trying to answer this question, could we not say that this analysis of fascist ideology seems strangely close to something fundamental in our “post-ideological” societies allegedly marked by disengagement from every utopian project? If so, the family resemblance between Lyotard’s post-ideological buffooned capitalism and fascism in its Adornian version could not be mere chance. For in both cases we would be facing mechanisms of power founded on ideologies of ironization.

  • 18 Theodor W. Adorno, “Fernsehen als Ideologie” [1953], in: Gesammelte Schriften, Vol. X-2: Kulturkrit (...)

18The fact that Adorno relies on the very same scheme of ironization in his analysis of the mechanism of ideology in capitalist contemporaneity, is what the last lines of his text devoted to the analysis of television as ideology confirm: “Among the scripts analyzed, many are those who play with the conscience of being kitsch and wink at the non-naive spectator, as if to say that they themselves do not believe what they show, that they are not that stupid.”18 What Adorno is describing is a supreme example of ideology, which works precisely because it is not taken seriously.

19This point is central if we remember that, for Adorno, the culture industry accounts, in a hegemonic manner, for the establishment of the dynamics of socialization processes. In this sense, the real question posed by Adorno does not concern univocal processes of “manipulation” that would disregard the possible multiplicity of modes of reception and re-signification. It concerns the consequences of socialization processes mediated by previously mocked content. Adorno’s reflections point in this direction, especially in “Free Time” (1969), a late essay which, in the end, proposes some revisions to the general framework of the concept of culture industry as it has been developed in the Dialectic of Enlightenment.

20Starting from an empirical study developed by the Institute for Social Research on the reception modes of the German media wedding of Princess Beatriz of the Netherlands, Adorno realizes the need to abandon a classic scheme of ideological illusion for the analysis of “symptoms of a duplicate consciousness” (Symptome eines gedoppelten Bewußtseins). Regarding such symptoms, he will say:

  • 19 Theodor W. Adorno, “Freizeit” [1969], in: Gesammelte Schriften, Vol. X-2: Kulturkritik und Gesellsc (...)

“We found that many [spectators] behaved very realistically and critically assessed the political and social importance of an event whose well-publicized uniqueness had kept them suspended before the television screen. As a result, if my conclusion is not too hasty, people accept and consume what the culture industry offers them for their free time, but with a kind of reserve, similar to the way even the most naive do not consider real the episodes offered by theater and cinema. Perhaps even more so: it is not quite believed in.”19

21If Adorno still saw a possibility of emancipation at this distance from the belief in the ideological contents, we can say that such “belief without belief” is exactly what drives ideology’s functioning in our times and ensures that it is perpetuated. The contents are already mocked and this is what allows them to continue circulating.

22We can see in the diagnosis of this self-irony of the cultural industry a fruitful path opened by Adorno in the analysis of contemporary formations of ideology. Indeed, an empirical analysis of recent products from the cultural industry demonstrates the prevalence of this scheme. Fairytale characters who no longer recognize and criticize their own roles, advertisements mocking advertising language, celebrities and political representatives self-mocking in television shows: all these facts are merely figures of a general process of mocking forms of life that confronts us with what Peter Sloterdijk once called reflexive ideology, an ideological position that bears in itself the negation of the contents it presents. Cunning way to perpetuate them even in historical situations where they can no longer expect substantial rootedness.

23In this sense, the conservation of the critique of ideology can show its relevance. Our “post-ideological” societies are not exactly marked by the absence of recurring ideological constructs used to justify social practices and values. On the contrary, they are marked by the perpetuation of such constructions in the form of irony. For even if such constructions are mocked, they continue to provide the stable and socially shared narrative framework for the description of practices and values. This only shows us how, today, a critique of ideology that seeks to account for the ways in which power operates from a cynical rationality must first of all be a critique of irony.

Ironical identifications

24Perhaps it is only possible to better understand the necessity of this self-irony at the core of the ideology if we highlight the advent of a peculiar way of identifying subjects with social ties. Note, for example, how subjects are no longer called upon to identify with ideal types built on fixed and determined identities, which would require engagement and a certain ethic of conviction. In fact, they are increasingly called upon to support ironic identifications, that is, identifications in which subjects at all times affirm their distance from what they are representing, or even from their own actions. As if Adorno, realizing that the subjects acted their identifications with the fascist leader touched on a central point about the mode of individuation and socialization of contemporary capitalist societies.

25Psychoanalysis, especially Lacanian-oriented psychoanalysis, has insisted on the role of identifications as central processes in the socialization and support of social bonds. Socializing is fundamentally “doing as if,” acting from ideal types that serve as models. However, in order to account for two distinct ways of “doing as if,” Lacanian psychoanalysis has been forced to draw a strict distinction between imaginary identification, founded on the constitutive and specular introjection of the image of another, and symbolic identification, which indicates the recognition of oneself in a unary trait coming from an Other (usually the one that sustains the paternal function) in the position of Ideal self. By operating through unary traits rather than by static images, this form of identification is a mode of recognition which does not impose the sharing of a fixed identity, but rather drives the subject to recognize his desire in what has no objectification previously determined.

26Through this duplicity of identification mechanisms, Lacan sought to explain socialization based on identification processes could account for the fact that subjects are able to recognize themselves in symbolic functions that are not exhausted in the contingent figures of those who carry them. However, everything happens as we transform this previously determined lack of objectification proper to symbolic functions into irony.

  • 20 “In ihr soll alles Scherz und alles Ernst sein, alles treuherzig offen, und alles tief verstellt” ( (...)

27Like symbolic identifications, ironic identifications are not linked to the introjection of privileged images placed in the ideal position. For a long time, the ironic dissolution of determinacy was also understood as the dissolution of the fixation of the self-image. By continually exposing the distance between enunciator and enunciation, the ironist appears as one who is never present in his saying, one who never provides an image of himself. As Schlegel said of Socrates’ irony: “In it everything must be a joke and everything must be serious: everything sincerely open and everything deeply concealed.”20

28Thus, the destruction of the pregnancy of self-images may simply result in the continuous implementation of a certain ironic distance from all empirical determinacy, that is, from every identity role that determines social roles. A distance that can be stabilized from the moment the subjects treat their social identities as simple semblants, to use Lacan’s term, or even as an appearances as such. This logic of ironization can be realized, for example, through the “flexibility” of a plastic subjectivity that can be affirmed as a pure game of masks no longer subject to any unifying principle. As if the present had confirmed Nietzsche’s diagnosis:

  • 21 Friedrich Nietzsche, “Die fröhliche Wissenschaft,” in: Kritische Studienausgabe, Vol. III: Morgenrö (...)

“There are times when the individual is convinced that he can do almost anything, be up to almost every role, in which each one tries, improvises and tries again […]. The Greeks, once engaged in this belief in roles […] have actually become actors […]. But I’m afraid that we, modern actors, are totally engaged on this path, and each time that man begins to find out to what extent he plays a role and to what extent he can be an actor, he becomes an actor.”21

  • 22 Cf. Louis Althusser, “Les appareils idéologiques d’État,” in: Positions (1964–1975). Freud et Lacan (...)

29Note also that this regime of identification gains importance if we remember how such ironic distance is currently a necessary condition for the functioning of ideology. Let us recall this central statement by Althusser (at least here, near Adorno) that ideology is not a matter of false consciousness or blind belief, but a matter of repetition of material rituals.22 Repetition that may well do without any subjective engagement. In fact, it is even better for the subject to take critical distance from his doing so that he is not confused with his social roles and rituals. In this way, the inertia in the modification of the action will be even greater, because the subject dissociates itself from its own act, which gains the strength of automatism. Repetition without belief—or the famous Pascalian saying that reverses the relationship between act and belief: “Kneel, pray and you will believe”—reminds us that the concept of ideological belief is not exactly a concept linked to intentional states, but to structures of social praxis. It is in view of similar phenomena that Adorno could speak of “belief without belief.”

30Richard Rorty thinks of irony fundamentally as a form of life proper to liberal democratic societies and founded on a global position in the face of values that aspire to ground in non-revocable criteria for evaluating conduct and institutions:

  • 23 Richard Rorty, Contingence, Irony and Solidarity, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1989, p. 7 (...)

“I call these people ‘ironists’ […] because their understanding that we can make anything look good or bad through redescriptions and their renunciation of trying to formulate criteria for choosing between final vocabularies [i.e., weight determinations]. Sartre called them ‘meta-stable’: never ready to take themselves seriously because always aware that the terms in which they describe themselves are subject to change, always aware of contingency and fragility of their final vocabularies and, consequently, of their selves.”23

  • 24 Richard Rorty, Contingence, Irony and Solidarity, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1989, p. 7 (...)

31That is, socially shared values, which Rorty calls the “final vocabulary” to underline its aspiration to be endowed with metaphysical dignity, would be radically and continually doubted by the ironist. An irony that would come from the awareness of the historical-cultural contingency of every vocabulary describing normative criteria of justification. A healthy relativism proper to those who know that the terms in which we describe our expectations of justification are always subject to change would animate this Rortyan recovery from irony. For criteria of justification would be no more than “the platitude that contextually defines terms of a final vocabulary in current use.”24

32According to Rorty, the ironist does not invest socialization processes with conviction (since he operates by ironic identifications, we would say). However, it cannot provide a positive criterion for transforming such insecurity into openness to the production of an effective and stable self-determination. As in romantic irony, irony is linked to a movement of continuous self-description that puts subjectivity beyond any concrete determination.

  • 25 Richard Rorty, Contingence, Irony and Solidarity, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1989, p. 9 (...)
  • 26 Richard Rorty, Contingence, Irony and Solidarity, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1989, p. 8 (...)

33However, and this is the most important point, Rorty acknowledges that such a concept of irony requires a strict distinction between the private and the public sphere. For if irony concerns a certain way of implying values that underpin the public sphere, it is not a question of stating that public rhetoric must be ironistic. In fact: “the ironist takes the words that are the foundation of metaphysics and, in particular, to the public rhetoric of liberal democracies, as just one more text.”25 However, they act as if they take the words of the public rhetoric of liberal democracies seriously. Rorty cannot think that the values of liberal democracies are ironically stated. As he himself will say, “I cannot imagine a culture that socializes its youth in such a way as to continually doubt its own socialization process.”26 But we can.

34We know that for Rorty it is a matter of insisting on a necessary distance from the absolutization of values used by the subjects to regulate and justify daily actions, something that, in one way or another, does not fail to refer us to the Kant from Was ist Aufklärung? with his distinctions between public and private use of reason. This distance would leave subjects immune to the metaphysical temptation to believe that our values can account for the correct description of the beliefs, actions, and systems of others who share distinct values. This would open the space necessary for liberal tolerance of the other. However, since irony is basically une affaire privée, the rhetoric of liberal democracies would remain accepted precisely because it does not require absolute conviction of the subjects. Indeed, the problem of justification has been detached from the problem of truth. Perhaps this is indeed the sine qua non condition for the perpetuation of hegemonic forms of life in liberal democracies. A price too high?

Notes

1 Jean-François Lyotard, Des dispositifs pulsionnels, Paris, Galilée, 1994, p. 121. Unless otherwise stated all translations are mine.

2 Jean-François Lyotard, Des dispositifs pulsionnels, Paris, Galilée, 1994, p. 130.

3 Jean-François Lyotard, Des dispositifs pulsionnels, Paris, Galilée, 1994, p. 16.

4 Theodor W. Adorno, Gesammelte Schriften, Vol. VIII: Soziologische Schriften I, edited par Rolf Tiedemann, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 467.

5 Theodor W. Adorno, Gesammelte Schriften, Vol. VIII: Soziologische Schriften I, edited by Rolf Tiedemann, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 465.

6 In a way, this notion of comics linked to the inadequacy of appearance is still present in Bergson, when Bergson states that we normally find in laughable a certain: “Mechanical rigidity [proper to what it masks] when one would expect the attentive malleability and lived flexibility of a person” (Henri Bergson, Le rire. Essai sur la signification du comique, Paris, Presses universitaires de France, 1969, p. 8).

7 Theodor W. Adorno, Minima Moralia, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 1980 [1969], p. 280.

8 Theodor W. Adorno, Minima Moralia, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 1980 [1969], p. 280 sq.

9 In this regard, see Quentin Skinner, “Hobbes and the Classical Theory of Laughter,” in: Tom Sorell and Luc Foisneau (eds.), Leviathan After 350 Years, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2004, p. 139–166. We can also recall Simon Critchley’s statement: “Much of humor, especially comedy of recognition—and most of humor is a comedy of recognition—simply seeks to reinforce consensus and in no way seeks to criticize the established order or change the situation in which we find ourselves” (Simon Critchley, On Humour, London / New York, Routledge, 2002, p. 11).

10 Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, edited by Richard Tuck, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1996, p. 43.

11 Theodor W. Adorno, Gesammelte Schriften, Vol. VIII: Soziologische Schriften I, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 477.

12 Theodor W. Adorno, Gesammelte Schriften, Vol. VIII: Soziologische Schriften I, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 477.

13 Theodor W. Adorno, Gesammelte Schriften, Vol. VIII: Soziologische Schriften I, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 476.

14 Theodor W. Adorno, “Freudian Theory and the Pattern of Fascist Propaganda” [1951], in: Gesammelte Schriften, Vol. VIII: Soziologische Schriften I, edited by Rolf Tiedemann, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 432.

15 This Adornian reading of fascism as a parody may make use of the fact that neither Hitler nor Mussolini can be technically defined as dictators. Mussolini was the legal head of government and Hitler the legal chancellor of the Reich. As Agamben reminds us: “What characterizes both the fascist and the Nazi regime is that they allowed the existing constitutions to subsist, following—according to a paradigm that was subtly defined as a ‘dual state’—the legal constitution of a second structure often not legally formalized, which could exist next to each other thanks to the state of exception” (Giorgio Agamben, Estado de exceção, São Paulo, Boitempo, 2004, p. 76). Would we not have here a strange case of the Bakhtinian structure of the norm which is always accompanied by its parodic double? How to understand the subjective position of subjects who support a power that follows at the same time the Law and its denial, except through cynicism?

16 Theodor W. Adorno, “Freudian Theory and the Pattern of Fascist Propaganda” [1951], in: Gesammelte Schriften, Vol. VIII: Soziologische Schriften I, edited by Rolf Tiedemann, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 429.

17 Theodor W. Adorno, “Freudian Theory and the Pattern of Fascist Propaganda” [1951], in: Gesammelte Schriften, Vol. VIII: Soziologische Schriften I, edited by Rolf Tiedemann, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 2013, p. 431, 430 and 433 (respectively).

18 Theodor W. Adorno, “Fernsehen als Ideologie” [1953], in: Gesammelte Schriften, Vol. X-2: Kulturkritik und Gesellschaft II, edited by Rolf Tiedemann, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 1977, p. 529.

19 Theodor W. Adorno, “Freizeit” [1969], in: Gesammelte Schriften, Vol. X-2: Kulturkritik und Gesellschaft II, edited by Rolf Tiedemann, Frankfurt a. M., Suhrkamp, 1977, p. 654 sq.

20 “In ihr soll alles Scherz und alles Ernst sein, alles treuherzig offen, und alles tief verstellt” (Friedrich Schlegel, Kritische Friedrich-Schlegel-Ausgabe, Vol. II: Charakteristiken und Kritiken I: 1796–1801, edited by Ernst Behler with the collaboration of Jean-Jacques Anstett and Hans Eichner, Paderborn, Schöningh, 1967, p. 160).

21 Friedrich Nietzsche, “Die fröhliche Wissenschaft,” in: Kritische Studienausgabe, Vol. III: Morgenröte, Idyllen aus Messina, Die fröhliche Wissenschaft, edited by Giorgio Colli and Mazzino Montinari, Berlin, De Gruyter, 1988, p. 596.

22 Cf. Louis Althusser, “Les appareils idéologiques d’État,” in: Positions (1964–1975). Freud et Lacan, la philosophie comme arme de la révolution, Paris, Éditions sociales, 1976, p. 109.

23 Richard Rorty, Contingence, Irony and Solidarity, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1989, p. 74. It is extremely symptomatic that Rorty understands this weakening of “final vocabularies” as the result of a “dialectic” that would be at work in Hegelian thought. A dialectic based on the continuous game of reversions. Hence the definition: “Hegel’s so-called dialectical method is not an argumentative procedure or a way of unifying subject and object, but simply a literary skill—the skill to produce amazing gestalt changes through rapid, fluid transitions of terminology” (ibid., p. 78). This reduction of dialectic to a literary skill was, however, already criticized by Hegel himself at the time of his considerations of romantic irony.

24 Richard Rorty, Contingence, Irony and Solidarity, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1989, p. 75.

25 Richard Rorty, Contingence, Irony and Solidarity, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1989, p. 99.

26 Richard Rorty, Contingence, Irony and Solidarity, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1989, p. 87.

Auteur

Vladimir Safatle, Professor at Universidade de São Paulo. Books on critical theory, psychoanalysis, political philosophy and musical aesthetics, among others: Grand Hotel Abyss: Desire, Recognition and the Restoration of the Subject (Leuven University Press, 2016).

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