From liberal democracy to populist democracy

"The collapse of the Communist block entailed the conditions for export of democracy under the aegis of the United States. It was Clinton's era of soft export of American model by diplomacy, economy, culture, human aid and combat for transparency and human rights. But after 9/11 appeared the necessary conditions for pressing export of democracy. So we came to a bellicose logic, which is not satisfied with turning over the international relations, but which also distorts the fundamentals of our own societies. They become more security oriented, more authoritarian, and less based on search of truth. Having won a victory over popular democracies, liberal democracies gave way to populist democracies." Percy Kemp*, consultant, essayist and novelist, offers us his vision of the modern world.

Véronique Anger : In the interview to the revue Esprit(1), you borrow from a philosopher Michel Foucault the notions of "Interior" and "Exterior" in the attempts to understand new international relations.
Percy Kemp : In his "History of Madness in the Classical Age", Foucault shows the lepers, confined in the hospital for lepers, situated behind the walls of the City, in some sort of "the Interior of the Exterior", while the mad were locked in the asylum inside the City, in some sort of "the Exterior of the Interior". It seemed to me that this Interior/Exterior dichotomy could help us to better understand new relations of power and new international relations, which were established after the end of the Cold War.
Schematically, we can say that the western, westernised and industrialised countries (the United States, European Union, Israel, Japan, South Korea,...) make a part of the Interior block, while the Exterior would regroup in the Interior all non-industrialised countries and little westernised or non-westernised countries, as well as all nations, which do not share their own values (for example, North Korea, Cuba, Iraq of Saddam Hussein, Iran, Libya, Syria). They would be a sort of the lepers of the modern age.
Also schematically, we can say that socially excluded, marginal, asocial, inadapted people, illegal immigrants, which are among us, in the Interior, but which are not less confined in the second-rate cities, ghettos, slums, prisons, even in their homes (for example, a new project of the British Law, which allows putting all the people suspected of being connected with terrorism under surveillance of residence), are the mad of the modern age and they are locked in "the Exterior of the Interior".
VA : How are the relations between "the Interior" and "the Exterior" established?
PK :
The same rules do not apply depending on whether they concern the Interior or the Exterior. The members of the Interior block can be in turn allies, rivals, accomplices, competitors, partners or opponents, but their existence is never questioned by the other members of the block. These are very strict rules, preventing sliding towards violence, the rules, determining their relations, and they are observed by everybody. But with the Exterior, these rules do not apply. The relations here are essentially based on violence. Existence of "the Other" and its difference are denied and its neutralisation - or else its absolute destruction - is desirable.
So, if the relations between member states of the Interior bloc are based on the concept of rivalry and describe the strategies of the power based on diplomacy, negotiation, persuasion or, in the end, misinformation and subversion, the relations between the Interior and the Exterior are based on the concept of enmity, and they put forward the strategies mainly based on violence (police repression and military power).

VA : It can be translated as: what is forbidden among "the decent people" is admissible with those who do not belong to the club...
PK :
Exactly so. Depending on whether the target is in the Interior or in the Exterior, the rules will be applied or not. Something that the rules forbid in the Interior countries becomes legitimate in the Exterior ones. We can call it the "arbalest rule". As you know, in the Middle Ages the arbalest was a weapon, which was as deadly as valuable. Besides, it caused so great ravages in the ranks of western cavalry, that in 1139 the Latran Council decided to strongly prohibit its use between the Christian armies, at the same time permitting its use against the "Infidel". So, the French and the Americans would not use the arbalest to settle their disputes, but they would willingly use it to settle their accounts with the enemy from the Exterior.
So, American Boeing could spy on its European rival Airbus, however, the Americans would not declare war on the European Union. To make their interests prevail in this case, they would use diplomacy, authority, pressure, misinformation, or, in the end, destabilisation, however, without overstepping certain limits and without crossing the threshold of violence. On the contrary, with Iraq, the Americans would use the threats and armed forces. After the last American intervention to Iraq, the whole world was shocked by marginalisation of the Secretariat of the State and inefficiency of the CIA. But this is not the point. Due to the fact that the White House has already planned the use of military force against Iraq, diplomacy and intelligence service became therefore of secondary importance, serving, at the best, only for selling the war, which was already determined, to the public opinion and to the allies.
The same logic, which applies to "the Interior of the Exterior", also applies to "the Exterior of the Interior". Our city police would use intelligence service, demonstrative presence and deterrent to make keep the order in the streets of our capitals, but in other places, in those second-rate cities and ghettos, which are real extraterritorial entities, they would use confrontation instead of intelligence service, demonstrative presence and deterrent, rather violent than thorough.

VA : How is the correlation of forces between the "Interior" and the "Exterior" developing?
PK :
In the absence of the alternative centre of power and attraction, followed after the collapse of the Soviet Union, there is a number of countries of the Exterior, which finished up accepting Pax Americana (for example, Palestinian Authority and, more recently, Libya of Colonel Kadhafi). The others fell after the first hard blow for the lack of internal means (for example, Taliban regime in Afghanistan) or for the lack of influential allies (for example, Iraq of Saddam Hussein, which would certainly much better resist the Americans if we were still in the middle of the Cold War). So such countries volens nolens place their destinies in hands of the principal constitutive powers of the Interior and they fall, as the case may be, under tutelage of the IMF and the World Bank, NATO, multinationals, Washington, or of one or the other of the privileged allies of the United States.
Everything that counts passes further to the Interior itself and therefore the Exterior does not count or nearly does not count. Thus, if between the end of the sixties and the end of the previous century the Palestinians were the masters of their destinies, using all the weapons they had at their disposal - including the terrorism - in order to reinforce their position, today their fate does not depend on them any longer. Today the fate of the Palestinians (nation of the Exterior) is gambled in the Interior, at the Knesset between the Israeli factions and parties, which are rivals but not enemies, as in the discussions between the Israelis and the Americans. Nobody really believes that the attacks of Jihad, Hamas or Al-Aqsa Brigades, put pressure upon the decision of the Israeli government to withdraw from Gaza Strip. This decision is a result of political discussion and ethics inherent to the Israeli society, of negotiations between Israel and its American ally. From now on this is the Interior (a sort of metropolis) who decides the fate of the Exterior (new colonies).

VA : Your comments are similar to the article of Régis Debray published in Le Monde about twenty years ago: "Free people need slaves". Can't our democracies exist without imperialism?
PK :
It's quite true. In all times there had to be slaves for free people. Athens, Rome or British Empire are the examples. But there is something more to it. And this something more we should look for in the bellicose logic, which substantiates and justifies the power of new western elites born after 11 September. Without the Exterior, there would be no threat, no enemy, so there would be no war, no establishing of new powers, living exactly on the fear of threat, on identification of the enemy, and on the plan of destruction of such enemy.
Let's take the case of the actual President of America. Unlawfully elected, suffering from the lack of legitimacy, he finally found himself in the war and this was where he could build up his power and his legitimacy. He launched an armed crusade against the evil forces and defined himself as the President of war, the leader of war. Without the war George W. Bush would have quickly passed to the trap of History.
The elites, which are now surreptitiously taking power in the Interior, in order to establish themselves exactly in coherent power and to establish their domination, need permanence of a threatening Exterior. To prove this I can say that even when the Exterior asks for dialogue with the Interior, it gets a refusal. Saddam Hussein went too far in his concessions to the Americans. He was given a real "dressing-down". This did not prevent the Americans from waging war with him.
In the same way the Islamic terrorists, by their acts of violence, are trying to start conversation with the western enemies. The last public declarations of Osama Bin Laden were clearly made in this sense. But he was refused in the dialogue. To the political logic, which is the basis of the terrorism, they answer with the bellicose logic, denying exactly the politics. Here I can refer to my article on this subject, published in the revue Esprit(2), where I develop the idea, according to which the terrorism is, as a matter of fact, a political act, to which we respond in a purely bellicose way, denying the politics.
Don't be mistaken, the aim of the war declared by the United States after the 11 September was not the victory. The aim of this war is the continuation of war. The perpetuity of the state of war. I would think Washington would declare a war neither on Beijing nor on Pyongyang, but on medieval Afghan regime, on disarmed Iraqi regime and on organisations of artisan terrorists. In other words, the Americans would declare the war, which they cannot possibly lose, on the enemy, which cannot possibly win it.
VA : This bellicose logic is justified, because on the one hand, the President Bush could establish his power and be re-elected and, on the other hand, the war in Afghanistan and in Iraq made such dictators as Colonel Kadhafi to surrender.
PK :
It's true. But the war machine, on which this bellicose logic rests, is also not unlimited. While there are certain countries of the Exterior, which yield to the power of Washington, there also other ones, such as North Korea, Iran or Cuba, which reject the American diktat. Unlike Iraq, Libya or the Palestinians, those countries still have the means to reciprocate the American arbalests with their own arbalests. Those countries are much tougher bite to swallow, as compared to a castrated and boycotted regime of Saddam Hussein, demoralised regime of Kadhafi, or insipid regime of Mollah Omar. And this is where the American war machine demonstrated its limitations; the democracy takes over and replaces the strategy of power, worked out by Washington.
VA : Do you mean the right to interfere?
PK :
It's not about any right to interfere. The principle of the right to interfere appeared long before 11 September and long before George W. Bush came into power. Clinton's Administration did a lot in this respect: human rights, anti-corruption combat, human aid... But the democratic right to interfere goes much further. Bush's Administration uses export of western democratic model to undermine and destroy the powers, which were out of reach of American arbalest, and also to prevent the establishing of strong powers, which could eventually withstand the American might.
So if in the liberal democracies the coherence of political power, military power, scientific progress and technological achievements up till now have not been antinomical with democratic practices and freedom of the individual, it does not necessarily apply to other places. There are societies where the coherence, the progress and the achievements depend on autocratic power. Is it a matter of chance that in Russia, for example, autocratic tsarist power was not followed by democratic power, but by the same autocratic power of the Bolsheviks? Is it a matter of chance that it was under Communist regime, when Russia had the best political and military breakthrough and the best scientific and technological achievements? Is it a matter of chance that post-Soviet and democratic Russia became an escheated country and that we are now witnessing a new crackdown? This is not a chance. One of the conclusions, made by a very serious poll conducted in Russia in 2003, was that the majority of the Russian people would prefer the autocratic regime, which would guarantee them social benefits, to the democratic one. It would seem that Russian social formation should be the one, where, as opposed to the western social formations, the power and progress would be antinomical with democracy and freedom. Here I would like to make a reference to a very nice novel by Vassili Grossman "Tout passe" ("All Passes")(3). There you will read about Russia, the pages full of rare veracity that would make a number of historians and political scientists pale of jealousy and blush of shame.
If I am right to think that what has been good for a long time for the West is not necessarily good for other countries, then we can believe that when turning democracy into the war-horse (in the literal meaning of the term) American Administration is trying, to say the least, to destroy the powers in such target countries. Because in such countries democratisation is in most cases is a synonym of atomisation. Post-Saddam Iraq and post-Taliban Afghanistan prove it. When exporting selectively their democratic model, the United States do not bring the same freedom to the peoples, which has not had democratic traditions in the western meaning, which do not aspire to freedom as we imagine it and which do not really require it in such an extent. When exporting their democratic model, in reality the Americans only create their own ersatz. Weak and harmless ersatz. Really, nowadays the United States need strong and independent democracies as much as the Soviet Union once needed strong and independent Communist China. What the United States want are democracies under strong influence, managed by the fragile elites, with no roots and traditions, and which would depend on them. Assisted democracies.
At their time Clinton's Administration did a lot to promote democracy. And succeeded in it. In principle, to some extent. In the name of liberalism. Bush's Administration praises targeted application of the democratic model. So, the United States praise and encourage democratic changes in Teheran, where they ardently desire to see the change of the regime, but they happily put up with autocratic government of Uzbekistan. The democracy praised by Bush's Administration has shown us its real face: the strategy of power, which takes over as soon as the war machine shows its limitations.
I conclude that Bill Clinton and George W. Bush is not more than a simple interchange between democratic and republican presidents. Mutation of power has taken place, which betokens the mutation of our societies.
VA : What sort of mutation?
PK :
Since 11 September, which Bush's Administration called a new Pearl Harbor, the liberal democracies have been going through an exceptional period, which does not have the name. I don't talk about an impressive set of new legal and security measures, which burden the civil rights, restrict the freedom of the individual, interfere with personal life and make of everybody the citizens under high surveillance. I would only say that nobody or very few protest.
There is no real protest, what everybody is convinced about is that there is a real threat and that the state of war is justified. But what nobody says is that this war really has no end. Same as years agoTrotski was talking about his Permanent Revolution, Bush's Administration is now praising Permanent War. As Timothy Snyder stresses, "the fundamental resemblance between the Oceania [of George Orwell] and America [of George W. Bush] lies in denying, with the help of military rhetoric, of any political discussion. In the end of 1984, the reader realizes that permanent wars of Oceania […] are being waged with the only purpose: to confuse the people and get the way to manipulate and dominate over them(4)".
For several years, and especially since 11 September, our societies actually live in fear. Fear of unemployment, social exclusion, dilution of identity, but also fear of insecurity, assaults, and weapons of mass destruction. And the power generates such fear, exaggerates it and lives on it. So it uses it in order to generate still more power and to better dominate over the civil society.
When the civil society lets the power win with the help of fear, it turns its back upon common sense, which is required in order to make the right civil choice. The society is not looking for the truth, which has been the basis of the society since the Renaissance. It renews - and even increases - the lies of power. Richard Nixon was knocked down by his lies in the Watergate. Both Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were seriously cracked by the lies around, respectively, the "Irancontragate" and the "Monicagate". However, today, in spite of obvious lies of George W. Bush in respect of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and involvement of Saddam Hussein in terrorism, there is no sign of any "Iraqgate". Moreover, George W. Bush has been successfully re-elected. He managed again to impose on the Senate and on the public opinion a new Minister of Justice, the Legal Counsellor of the White House, who had done his best to justify the tortures. In other times they would say, after Shakespeare: "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.". Now even more.
The fact is that the truth does not interest anymore. The children spoilt by liberal democracy turn away from cultural and moral heritage and get involved into the power, which, hiding behind the noble ideas, in order to govern and prosper, appeals to the most primitive impulses. Political disputes, which used to be the basis of liberal democracy, are replaced by demagogical slogans, to the Newspeak(5) and George Orwell was right in the end: "War is Peace! Freedom is Slavery! Ignorance is Strength!".
The people, in its Athenian and Roman meaning, does not exist anymore. The sovereignity of people is changing into sovereignity of populace. The direct connection is being established between the demagogues and the street, with help of mass media. They ignore the cultural and intellectual elites, which in liberal democracies have traditionally served as a resonance-box and a transmission belt between the upper and lower classes. Populism replaces democracy and demagogy substitutes political disputes.
Boasting about certain immanence (the God, the Superior Being, the Good, the Motherland), the new power born from military logic, marginalises the traditional elites and bases upon "blue blood" by arousing fear and obsessions. If we draw a parallel with Rome, I would say that the Senate, the Patricians, the Knights are neutralised and Caesar governs alone supported by bureaucrats, mass media, and plebs, which he stuffs with bread and television games. Having won a victory over popular democracies, liberal democracies gave way to populist democracies.
(1) "Chaos et cosmos de l'après-guerre froide" in Esprit ("Chaos and Cosmos after the Cold War"). October 2003
(2) "Terroristes, ou anges vengeurs" in Esprit ("Terrorists, or Angels of Revenge"). May 2004
(3) Vassili Grossman "Tout passe". Lausanne - L'Age d'Homme. 2001
(4) Timothy Snyder "War is Peace" in Prospects. November 2004 (
(5) In French "Novlangue", the language meant to reduce the sphere of thought by increasing to maximum the number of words. 1984 is a product of our world on the way to absolute totalitarianism: "It's the end of the individual (no love, no family), personalisation of power with Big Brother, recruiting the youth, telesurveillance, brainwash, rewriting of history, manipulation with thoughts with the help of vocabulary " (the Newspeak). See :
*Percy Kemp is a consultant on international relations, essayist and novelist. His latest novel, Le Muezzin de Kit Kat (Muezzin of Kit Kat), which dangerously turns around the Security Barrier, built by Israel, was published in 2004 by Albin Michel.