chapter
Capitalism 12 The Ideology of the Empire and Its Traps
Pages 12

One of the favored intellectuals’ exercises throughout the twentieth century was the urge to “catastrophize” the situation: whatever the actual situation, it had to be denounced as “catastrophic,” and the better it appeared, the more it solicited this exercise. Heidegger denounced the present age as that of the highest “danger,” the epoch of accomplished nihilism; Adorno and Horkheimer saw in it the culmination of the “dialectic of enlightenment” in the “administered world”; up to Giorgio Agamben, who defines the twentieth-century concentration camps as the “truth” of the entire Western political project. Recall the figure of Horkheimer in the West Germany of the fifties: while denouncing the “eclipse of reason” in the modern Western society of consumption, he at the same time defended this same society as the lone island of freedom in the sea of totalitarianisms and corrupted dictatorships all around the globe. It was as if Winston Churchill’s old ironic quip about democracy as the worst possible political regime, and all other regimes worse than it, were here repeated in a serious form: Western “administered society” is barbarism in the guise of civilization, the highest point of alienation, the disintegration of the autonomous individual, et cetera, et cetera,—however, all other sociopolitical regimes are worse, so that, comparatively, one nonetheless has to support it…. One is thus tempted to propose a radical reading of this syndrome: what if what the unfortunate intellectuals cannot bear is the fact that they lead a life which is basically happy, safe, and comfortable, so that in order to justify their higher calling, they have to construct a scenario of radical catastrophe?