Peter Sloterdijk is one of the most accurate diagnosticians of our time. In his work Rage and Time, from the distinction between Eros (desire, that is the desire to possess, that is the possession of objects) and Thymos (pride, that is giving-willing, that is recognition) he offers an alternative history of the West – that is, as history of anger management. The “Iliad”, its founding text, begins in fact with the word “anger.” Homer calls the goddess to stand by him when he sings the song of the anger of Achilles. Although the quarrel between Achilles and Agamemnon concerns a woman – Agamemnon robbed Achilles of his slave girl Briseis – it is not about the loss of an erotic object, but about injured pride. And that is Sloterdijk’s point.
While anger can explode in ancient Greece, he experiences a profound change in the Jewish-Christian tradition, a sublimation, a postponement. No longer us, but God is keeping a record of our transgressions, and decides on the Day of Judgment. The Christian prohibition of revenge is the exact counterpart to the apocalyptic scene of the last days. The idea of a Last Judgment, in which all the accumulated debts are paid off and a world out of joint is corrected, lives in secularized form in modern leftist projects.
Now the judge is no longer God but the people. Left political movements in fact act like Anger-Banks (Zorn-Banken). They collect collective Anger-Investment (Zorn-Investitionen) and, in turn, promise the people long-term Revenge-Interest (Rache-Zinsen), thus establishing a more just world. Because after the revolutionary Anger-Explosion (Zorn-Explosion) the ultimate payment never takes place, and inequality and hierarchy always reappear, there is always an urge for the second – true, total – revolution. It is only to satisfy the disappointed and to bring the liberation to an end: in 1792 after 1789, October after February 1917.
And the revolution?
If there is no real proletariat at this stage, the revolution could just be transferred to imported substitute subjects Click To TweetThis leads us to the great problem of Western Marxism today: the absence of a revolutionary subject. Who could take the role of the proletariat? The farmers in the Third World, students and intellectuals are excluded. In the meantime, the refugees are to revive the European left, after the motto: If there is no real proletariat at this stage, the revolution could just be transferred to imported substitute subjects. This way of thinking is cynical through and through. It bears witness to a leftist paternalism, quite apart from the fact that it gives new impetus to the violence against immigrants.
The problem is that there is simply never enough spontaneous Anger-Capital (Zorn-Kapital) – that is why the leaders have been borrowing from other Anger-Banks, like the Nation or Culture. In Fascism, the national anger prevailed. In China’s communism, Mao mobilized the cultural anger of the exploited peasantry. In our time there are two main types of anger left: the anger of the losing Islamic modernists against the decadent system of capitalism, and the wrath of the right-wing populists that is aimed at immigrants. In lesser form, Latin American populists, consumerists and other representatives are resentful of the refusal to recognize globalization. The only thing that is clear: the situation is confusing, all the different forms of anger (Zorn-Formen) do not come together.
Corbyn shall do it
[Extract. Originally appeared at Neue Zürcher Zeitung on June 26th 2017. Translation by Ippolit Belinski (and google translate), a complete and better translation is welcome.]