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  • Multiplicity or Homogeneity?The Cultural-Political Paradox of the Age of Globalization
  • Zhang Xudong (bio)

The global event of the September 11 terrorist attack on New York brings to the fore the fragility and precariousness of an inter-dependent world. In this world, the unevenness, imbalance, conflict, and above all competing claims of truth and value (or what Max Weber has called the fight among the gods [Weber 1994, 78-79])1 tend to overwhelm the so-called rationalistic order of global capitalism and liberal democracy, an order that implies an overcoming of the Hegelian-Marxian History by the Kantian ideal of "perpetual peace." In the wake of this sudden upheaval and intensity of the political ("sudden" thanks to the ruthless effort at depoliticization we have been subject to since the end of the Cold War), both traditional lib-eral and radical positions seem to have been unable (or unwilling) to come up with explanations and analyses that address the deep-seated historical origins and contexts of today's conflict. Such explanations would make September 11, in hindsight, a disaster waiting to happen and, equally important, offer an intellectual and ideological alternative to the neoconservative battle cry for the Empire and its crusade against "evil." Anyone who does not want to be forced into the bleak choice between the "end of History" (Fukuyama 1992) and "clashes of civilizations" (Huntington 1996) must engage in a critical "cognitive mapping" (Jameson 1998) of the global political and cultural-political terrain in order to understand its basic fault lines and construct new narratives of the contradictions that motivate world events.

I seek to formulate a theoretical narrative by revisiting some structural and historical contradictions that tend to be concealed by the universalizing rhetoric of global capitalism as not only an economic system, but a system of production of culture and value as [End Page 30] well. These contradictions define the political nature of today's con-flict: they lay bare the ideological nature of various discourses of the universal and, paradoxically, keep the historical horizon open beyond the confines of the self-recognition, self-understanding, self-assertion, and political-discursive institutions of the bourgeois as a world-historical class.

My first step is to analyze the uniformity and exclusiveness of the political and cultural-political discourse of global capitalism, a discourse that, at the level of rhetoric, unfolds in terms of difference, diversity, multiplicity, and inclusion. This is followed by an analysis of the crisis of various forms of collectivity conceived politically or culturally, which are under constant assault and deconstruction not only by the capitalist world market but, equally importantly, by the rhetoric of the rationalistic individual now understood in cultural terms (despite the atomistic-universalist allergy to any particular cultural affiliation and loyalty). In this regard, it is no exaggeration to say that the global "free rational individuals," a philosophical sublimation of the international middle class, now see themselves as something "organic," as a "community" with its own myths and romances.

In the next section, I focus on the political-theological analysis of the structural contradictions and discrepancies of liberal democracy offered by Carl Schmitt as a conservative revolutionary in Weimar Germany. While guarding against the intellectual trap of a theoretical, even political, short circuit of a right-wing critique of the wishful thinking of middle-class politics with Leftist historical-critical analysis, I nonetheless find Schmitt's often penetrating insight on the political compelling. Schmitt offers a dialectical rethinking of the semi-autonomous domains of property, subjectivity, and culture (as "form of life" and as things pertaining to taste and judgment) that constitute the core values of liberalism as a universal ideology.

In the last section of the article, I seek to examine the prevalent rhetoric of Empire—currently shared by both the Left and the Right—in terms of the contradictions of multiplicity and singularity, inclusion and exclusion, diversity and uniformity, and so on, that are accounted for in previous sections. Admittedly, many of my arguments are not yet fully developed conceptually but remain embedded in those narrative moments, as linkages, flights, and mediations. [End Page 31] However, this essentially narrative attempt to establish some basic parameters of a critical...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1460-2458
Print ISSN
0882-4371
Pages
pp. 30-55
Launched on MUSE
2004-10-15
Open Access
No
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