Writing in the Guardian, Simon Critchley, author of The Faith of the Faithless, asks what popular protest will look like in the wake of the Arab Spring and Occupy. Although the forward momentum of both movements has slowed recently, Critchley identifies the importance of the present moment, writing that, "Rather than retreating into the comfort of despair or cynicism, perhaps this is a moment in which we can try and gain a broader view of matters."
Giving an overview of current political processes, Critchley neatly sums up our present predicament, writing that,
Power is the ability to get things done. Politics is the means to get those things done. Democracy is the name for regimes that believe that power and politics coincide and that power lies with the people. The problem is...that power and politics have become divorced. What we call democracy has become a sham.
Commenting on European bailout schemes, Critchley argues that, "contemporary power is not the people and is not located in local or national governments." Instead, we now have, "unelected governments of technocrats in Greece and Italy, and elected technocrats elsewhere." Power lies in hugely powerful, unelected bodies like the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund and protects the interest of financial institutions. As a result, Critchley suggests that,
At this point in history, representative liberal democracy is no more than a kind of ideological birdsong. Politics does not have power. It serves power. And power is supra-political and out of the reach of common citizens.
As a result of the separation between politics and power, Critchley argues that the state has itself been damaged, or rather, "eviscerated, discredited, its credit rating has been slashed." "What can we do?" he asks, offering an answer that is both simple and infinitely challenging,
We have to take politics back from the political class through confrontation with the power of finance capital and the international status quo - the people who, little more than a year ago, were insisting the Egyptian government was stable. What was so admirable about the various social movements that we all too glibly called "the Arab spring" was their courageous intention to reclaim autonomy and political self-determination.
The protestors in Tahrir Square refused to live in dictatorships propped up to serve the interests of western capital and corrupt local elites. They wanted to reclaim ownership of the means of production, for example through the nationalisation of major state industries. The various movements in north Africa and the Middle East still aim at one thing: autonomy. They demand collective ownership of the places where one lives, works, thinks and plays. This is the most classical and basic goal of politics.
Critchley goes on to discuss the political achievements of the Occupy movement, which sought to reconnect power and politics through general assemblies conducted "peacefully, horizontally and non-coercively," and through combining old political tools - such as direct action, consensus and autonomy - with new ones provided by social media and new technologies. He emphasizes the importance of location to the future of protest in order to combat separations between power and politics, writing that, "If the nation state or the supra-national sphere is not a location for politics, then the task is to create a location. This is the logic of occupation." Despite suggesting that it is not for "old men" like himself to offer advice to young rebels, Critchley concludes with yet one more provocative thought, suggesting that, "a massive occupation of Olympic sites in London in order to stop the dreadful, sad jingoism of the whole tiresome spectacle would be nice."
Visit the Guardian to read the article in full.
Simon Critchley discusses his new book The Faith of the Faithless with Jonathan Derbyshire in this week's New Statesman. They discuss "secularist dogmatism", Obama and the Occupy movement. Distancing himself from Dawkins and Hitchens, Critchley comments, "We cannot decide a priori that we're not going to engage with religious questions, nor can we decide a priori that religious questions are going to be the answers to philosophical or political issues."
Visit the New Statesman for more information.
Critchley is also taking part in events in Dublin and London over the next few weeks. In Ireland, Critchley will be discussing Mystical Anarchism, and speaking on Faith of the Faithless. In the UK, he will be taking part in a lunchtime seminar in London at the ICA with Tom McCarthy. He will also be in appearing in conversation. at the London Review Bookshop at the beginning of April.