By Alain Brossat

 

 

To harm stupidity!

Nietzsche, The Gay Science

 

 

In The Crisis of Culture, Hannah Arendt draws our attention to the vulnerability of factual truths, subject to the constant pressure of opinion and the type of truth regime that prevails in it – that of the multiple and the changeable[1]. Political life is characterised by the clash of opinions in public life, and political action is inseparable from the ability of those engaged in it to interpret the facts and view them according to their interests and convictions. In this sense, the historical past, in its very factuality, is always exposed to the danger of being distorted by the infinite capacity of the living to reinterpret it according to their perspective of the moment.

For all that, Arendt says, the truth of historical facts cannot and must not be subjected to a condition of absolute relativity, without limit, to the regime of opinion, and in particular to the demands of politics. The past, in its historical substance, is not soluble in the self-interested narratives that are woven into the conditions of the present, it cannot be bent without limit to the conditions of the political subjectivity of the moment. Against the vulnerability of factual truths (of the historical past in the first place) to the perpetual encroachment of narratives placed under the regime of opinion in the present, it is advisable to promote and defend the principle of a kind of immunity of what constitutes the core of truth or objectivity of historical facts. The past is permanently open to interpretation, always changing according to the interests, sensitivities, and dispositions of the moment, and also according to the diversity (in conflict) of the narrators present. It is bound to be constantly put into perspective.

However, a distinct limit must be set to its availability to interpretation: there is something like a hard core of factuality; a core that must be said, as a matter of principle, to be beyond the reach of opinion and not available to interpretation; the affirmation of this gnoseological, epistemological, and moral safeguard is the only bulwark we can erect against nihilism in public uses of the past, against revisionism and negationism in particular.

Arendt’s firm position is expressed, for example, in the following formula: «Even if we admit that each generation has the right to write its own history, we refuse to admit that it has the right to reshape the facts in harmony with its own perspective; we do not admit the right to undermine the factual material itself».[2]

And, in a famous passage in the article ‘Truth and Politics’, she cites an anecdote relating to the history of the First World War to support her point: «During the twenties, so a story goes, Clemenceau shortly before his death, found himself engaged in a friendly talk with a representative of the Weimar Republic on the question of guilt for the outbreak of the First World War. ‘What, in your opinion’, Clemenceau was asked, ‘will future historians think of this troublesome and controversial issue?’ He replied ‘This I don’t know. But I know for certain that they will not say Belgium invaded Germany’».[3]

And Arendt adds: «We are concerned here with brutally elementary data of this kind, whose indestructibility has been taken for granted even by the most extreme and most sophisticated believers in historicism’».[4]

 

One might think that those whose primary interest is to promote their interests in the present, and for whom power relations and the division of the world into friends and enemies are of primary importance, are not particularly concerned with the past or with the narrative stakes associated with it. But this would be a serious mistake: everything happens as if the power games in which they are engaged, the control they are trying to secure over the present, everything happens as if their spirit of conquest could only be fully asserted on the condition that the authority they are trying to establish must also and equally extend to the past; everything happens as if it were also primarily important for them to assert their own truths about the facts of the historical past.

In other words, experience shows that these Callicles are concerned not only with establishing their hold on the present, but on the past as well,[5] which inevitably leads them to try to make their opinion of the facts of the past prevail over what Arendt defines as the core truth of these very facts. For these power-loving birds of prey and force fetishists, the authority they intend to exercise over the present cannot be complete if it is not based on the colonisation of the past by their narratives emancipated from any principle of reality; as such, they are perfectly indifferent to the facts, their statements being placed under the regime of the superiority of the Saying of force and power over the truth of the facts.[6]

 

This passion for the past in the form of a rewriting compulsion is singular and disconcerting, insofar as it is the very feature that most blatantly reveals the ineptitude and imposture of these exalted powers – their constitutive nihilism. Totalitarian regimes discourage their most blind and enthusiastic supporters when they erase from the annals and make disappear from photographs the names and faces of public figures who have become undesirable. But this inclination is much more widely shared. What need does Eric Zemmour, an exemplary political adventurer, come out of nowhere and is carried by the air of the times (by the poisonous atmosphere of the moment), what need does this pilgrim of nothingness have to show off – or rather to expose himself to general disapproval – by awakening the ghosts of the Vichy regime’s calamitous collaboration with the occupier during the Second World War – by claiming against all evidence that Marshal Pétain “saved the Jews”?  – This even though it is public knowledge, long established by the consensus of historians, that Vichy and the French police took more than their share in the roundups and arrests of Jews, with a view to their deportation and extermination in the Nazi camps?

 

2- The passion manifested today by the different incarnations of political nihilism – the French-style post-neo-fascist or the Taiwanese-style activist of the new cold war – can now find the opportunity to thrive in the most varied spaces and circumstances. It can less than ever be reduced to the conditions of a flatly Orwellian approach to totalitarian regimes. This front line or fire line on which the concern for the safeguarding of what is today called “post-truth” (but which is never more than a rebranded version of what Arendt designates as the regime of truth subjected to opinion) is clearly drawn when the figure of political nihilism emerges, inseparable from its maxim: let truth perish, so long as our interests triumph! – Or, more precisely: let the elements of reality, the best established real facts, disappear before our myths and legends! Now, the dominant feature of the present era, placed under the sign of the absolute urgency of the confrontation between the West in the process of rearmament and what appears to threaten its hegemony, is that of the limitless expansion of this figure – the resolutely nihilistic becoming of what takes the place of politics in global democracy. The more this becoming is placed under the sway of a hardened regime of hostility whose natural outcome is a desire for war that is less and less concealed, a desire for death par excellence, the more the phenomenon highlighted by Arendt returns in force: the vulnerability of historical facts to the attacks of those for whom the conquest of the present necessarily passes through the destruction of the intelligibility of the past.

 

By attempting to make their viciously biased, even downright fantastical accounts of sensitive past episodes weighted down by collective memory prevail over the best established facts, today’s nihilists, like those of yesterday, are repeating the same old demonstration: that of exhibiting their capacity to bend reality, to enslave the past by subjecting it to the conditions of their infinite discursive power. If the past can be rewritten without limit, then, literally, as Arendt says, everything is possible in terms of conquering opinion and establishing the supremacy of truths of opinion over truths of fact. This is why, in an age where nihilism literally dictates the conditions of the age, storytelling has become a major issue in the war of the worlds. In this war, the contours of which are taking shape today, everything is happening as if the fate of the battles announced was played out to a decisive extent in the arrangement of narratives, in the confrontation of discourses, in the arrangement of key words, of ‘elements of language’. These people put themselves in order of battle in language, discourse and narratives by fabricating ‘stories’ that would become authoritative as quickly as possible and be adopted by the common sense of the people. It is remarkable that the first victim of the war of narratives that supports the war of the worlds is the historical past. It is no longer just the dead who, as Walter Benjamin said, “are no longer safe”, but the facts of the past and the most elementary, best established historical data are now exposed to this insecurity; under the regime of generalised nihilism, they become infinitely plastic, revocable, reinterpretable at will, liable to be rewritten or thrown away, at will, depending on the interests of the moment. They erase, they ‘correct’, they invent without limit, at will.

 

3- These issues are particularly sensitive today, in the singular context of the war of the worlds being waged in East Asia by the United States (with its cohort of allies and clients) and China. For obvious geopolitical reasons, the question of Taiwan has become one of the crystallisation points of these stakes: in this new environment, this island located close to the Chinese continent has more and more vocation, from the point of view of the United States, to act as an advanced position of the great space placed under its command at the doors, even if they are maritime, of the enemy. It is, in the words of US strategists, the “first line of defence” against alleged Chinese expansionism – indeed, a strong outpost and a decisive lock in the US and Western posture between Japan and Southeast Asia.

Here again, it is remarkable that the issues of the present must necessarily spill over into the past, finding their extension in a ceaseless activism of reinventing a tailor-made past intended to provide a foundation for the positions and claims displayed in the present. Clearly, pragmatic reasoning that simply emphasises the extent to which Taiwan’s land-based “aircraft carrier” is an indispensable pawn in the overall confrontation with China that the US, its regional allies and its Western partners are constantly reinforcing is not enough. On the contrary, it is as if this strategic reasoning, as simple as it is obvious, had to find its basis and its complement in a narrative of the past, or more precisely, the rewriting of a tailor-made history that does not shy away from any falsification, in order to fully establish its authority and display its legitimacy in the present.

The conquest of the present is achieved through the rewriting of the past, which is achieved through the relentless repetition of statements and keywords whose purpose is to display the supremacy of fabricated truths over the best established facts. As the Taipei Times recently wrote, not imagining how perfectly these words qualify its own rhetoric: «Important concepts and narratives must be articulated regularly to ensure they retain relevance (…). A contortion of reality, if expressed frequently by figures of authority, can be accepted as truth».[7]

In this case, the formula for the triumph of truth of opinion over truth of fact is the assertion that “Taiwan is not part of China”, while mobilising, according to the enunciators, a whole series of supposedly historical arguments, which are perfectly disparate. When Trump was in office, his Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, the sinister Pompeo, did not embarrass himself with circumlocutions on this subject, confident in the authority conferred on his word by the position of the hegemon: “Taiwan has not been a part of China” – an impressive untruth which, in its very conciseness, displays the blind confidence that this type of potentate places in the infinite power of the language of the masters and their capacity to send the most massive historical truths into oblivion.[8]

 

One step further, in the mouths of the officials and mercenaries of neo-imperial truth, appears this outline of an argument: the Chinese regime whose authority is established on the mainland under the name of the People’s Republic of China has no claim to sovereignty over Taiwan, given that the Chinese Communist Party has never exercised its authority on the island. A “historical” argument that does not stand up to the briefest of scrutiny: sovereignty understood as the continuity of a power not subject to other powers is not soluble in the variability and relativity of political regimes. Sovereignty refers to the continuity of a power. Now, what has always been in question in the confrontation or competition between the Republic of China and the People’s Republic of China or, if you like, between the two main protagonists of the Chinese civil war, is Chinese sovereignty – as stated in black and white in the name of the entity exercising de facto sovereignty in Taiwan – Republic of China (ROC).

Therefore, the argument that legally the Chinese Communist Party or, more precisely, the regime exercising its power on the territory of mainland China or, more precisely, the sovereign entity recognised by the international community as that of China, is not entitled to claim sovereignty over Taiwan, this argument is meaningless: from the moment the international community confirmed, at the end of the Second World War, on the occasion of the capitulation of Japan, that Taiwan was fully destined to return to Chinese sovereignty, the question is no longer debatable. It is no longer a question of which regime has held power over Taiwan from the end of the Chinese civil war to the present day, but rather who is the legal representative (embodiment, incarnation) of Chinese sovereignty. The international community has given a clear answer to this question: it is the People’s Republic of China, not “nationalist” China, that represents Chinese sovereignty at the United Nations.

Moreover, the very same people who cling to the fallacy that “CCP has no claim to Taiwan”[9] are well aware of its irrefutable nature, since they are the first to argue that the Diaoyutai islets, retained by Japan with the blessing of the US at the end of the Second World War, come under Taiwanese sovereignty – even though the ROC has never been able to exercise its rights there; the same are likely to support Japan’s claim to the Kuril Islands appropriated by the Soviet Union at the end of the Second World War – yet the Kuril Islands were never placed under the administration of the US-installed regime in Japan after the defeat.

This blatant inconsistency shows that, when it suits them, Taiwanese independentists are well aware that, in matters of sovereignty, it is the continuity of sovereign power (embodied by the state in its most elementary and massive form) that is decisive and not the variability of regimes. This is the reason why, in Germany, the democratic regime that succeeded the Third Reich had to take responsibility, in all forms, for the crimes committed by the latter. Similarly, in France, the position consisting of rejecting the crimes committed by the Vichy regime during the war and the Occupation (collaboration with the occupier, deportation of the Jews) by arguing that the Republic could not bear responsibility for the exactions committed by a regime that had abolished it – this position was definitively revoked under Jacques Chirac, in 1995, and it is this lesson in law and history delivered at the time by the then President of the Republic that is now authoritative.

What is important here is the continuity of authority, not discontinuities in terms of forms of power. Similarly, after the end of the First World War, the Weimar Republic had to bear the consequences of the defeat of the German imperial regime – for the signatories of the Treaty of Versailles, this was self-evident, even if they differed as to the form of the sanctions and reparations imposed on the defeated Germany.

 

4- The only important question concerning Taiwan is: what is its relationship with Chinese sovereignty, and where is it situated in relation to it? Everyone knows that sovereignty over the island was wrested by Japan from the Chinese empire in 1895, following a war won by the former and the signing of a treaty of the same kind as those imposed by the European colonial powers and the US, in the course of their expansion on all the continents, on the peoples of the world, particularly in Asia, at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. Even the most determined to rewrite the modern and contemporary history of the Chinese world do not go so far as to erase it from the tablets, even if certain particularly virtuoso sophists venture to dare the following contortionist reasoning: since the late Chinese empire was in the hands of the Manchu dynasty (the Qing) at the end of the 19th century, a usurping dynasty because it was non-Chinese (Han), its claim to embody Chinese sovereignty prior to and at the time of the cession of Taiwan to Japan must be revoked. So, from a formal point of view, “Taiwan has never been China”… The misery of this reasoning is sufficiently obvious that we should not dwell on it: throughout the 19th century, the Manchu dynasty was sufficiently the incarnation of Chinese sovereignty (constantly flouted), in the eyes of the European powers, to be forced to sign Leonian treaties governing all sorts of spoliations during the Opium Wars…

 

The moment to focus on is the end of the Second World War, after the surrender of Japan. How did the victorious powers, led by the US, decide on Taiwan’s status in terms of sovereignty? What sovereignty did they consider the island to have at this key moment, favourable to the reparation of historical wrongs committed in the more or less recent past, favourable to a redistribution of the cards placed under the sign of the rejection of the right of conquest practised by the expansionist Japan?

One only has to look at the memorandum addressed to his superiors by Lt. Kerr (a US diplomat who witnessed first-hand the transfer of power in Taiwan from the local Japanese colonial authority to the newly arrived representatives of the Republic of China) to know what to expect on the subject:[10] for the US authorities, both civilian and military, overseeing this process of transition from one sovereignty to another, the fact that sovereignty over the island returned after Japan had formally renounced it, was a clear demonstration that Taiwan had been “taken over”; in the eyes of the authorities of the defeated country, that Taiwan had the status of a colony and not of a part of Japanese territory (unlike Okinawa and Ryukyu), so that it has to return to China and to the authority that prevails there, the Republic of China, is self-evident.[11]

Formulas that attest to this evidence abound in Kerr’s text: “China will, however, face many problems in resuming sovereignty (emphasis added) over Formosa (…) China’s first problem is the development of close and efficient communication between Formosa and the mainland (…).The Formosan-Chinese are expecting as much help in reconstructing their own local economy as any other part of China (emphasis added) expects on the mainland (…) They maintain that it was the Imperial Manchu Government which handed them over unceremoniously as a form of reparation after China’s defeat in the Sino-Japanese war. Now, they are handed back to the Republican China (my emphasis, AB) infinitely better off than they were when they passed under Japanese control. It is assumed that the Chinese government today is fully aware of this and will be ready to extend to the Formosan benefits of democratic reorganization which Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek has promised to the rest of China».[12]

All that is stated here under the pen of Lieutenant Kerr, a member of the United States Naval Reserve, a shrewd and informed observer of the situation on the island, is the common sense and the historical evidence that imposes itself as much on the victorious powers as on the defeated Japan at the end of the Second World War in East Asia and the Pacific: Formosa returns, quite naturally, to China from which the island was snatched by a conquering regional power under the most contentious conditions. Taiwan then returned to China as did Manchuria, which was fought over by the Communist and Kuomintang armies after Japan’s defeat by the USSR offensive in August 1945.

The memorandum written by George Kerr had so little status as a personal and ineffective testimony that it was immediately published in the Far Eastern Survey, a journal published by a most official body, the American Council, Institute of Pacific Relations (10/10/1945). And this under the most explicit title: “Some Chinese (emphasis added, AB) problems in Taiwan”.

Kerr’s text also makes no secret of the fact that the US military administration on the island at the time was overseeing the process of transfer of power from Japan to China, as is also evidenced by photographic records – the Americans were directly involved, including, he says, in the repatriation programme of Japanese civilians and soldiers to their homeland.

Kerr, of course, being the good diplomat that he is, does not forget to mention that the final settlement of the question of the status of Formosa, endowed with a formal authority in international law, will have to pass through the signature of a treaty committing both the powers involved, Japan and China, and those who guarantee the validity of this treaty… this, even if, in his eyes, both the Cairo Declaration and the transfer of power already carried out in fact settle the question, in essence.[13]

 

This is where the breach is created for all the bad faith revisionist narratives that are designed to give credence to the idea that, at the end of the Second World War, Taiwan’s status remained floating, undetermined and undecidable in terms of sovereignty. The key argument, repeated over and over by pen-pushers and mercenaries and other merchants of both contrived and indispensable truths, is this: when Japan formally renounced its sovereignty over Taiwan at the signing of the San Francisco Treaty in 1952, “neither the Communist Party of China nor the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) were among the guests”,[14] effect of which would be that the transfer of sovereignty over the island from Japan to China would never have taken place under the rules of international law.[15]

The reasons why China was not represented at San Francisco – a conference held under the aegis of the US, which confirmed its position as the victor on both fronts of the Second World War and at which the foundations of the United Nations were laid – are obvious: in 1949, the Chinese communists definitively won over the nationalists, who were forced to withdraw to the island of Formosa. Under these conditions, it was difficult for the inviting power to call together both the victor of the civil war, who was still considered, for more than two decades, as a usurper of Chinese sovereignty, and the vanquished, who had been chased off the mainland…

But this particular circumstance did not prevent the US from continuing, until Nixon’s reversal at the instigation of Kissinger, to maintain the fiction of the continuity of Chinese sovereignty embodied in the Kuomintang: it maintained diplomatic relations with the Republic of China until the end of the 1970s – well after Nixon’s visit to China. There is thus a continuity in the post-World War II policy of the US, as well as that of most Western powers, to accept the fact that China’s sovereignty as a legal entity under international law has been restored in/on Taiwan. The turnaround in the 1970s did not in any way call this state of things into question: what changed was simply the fact that the US, and with it most Western powers, now recognised Beijing rather than Taipei as the legitimate power embodying Chinese sovereignty.

 

In any case, if there is one thing that is and remains a fact, it is that the United States and the international community as a whole have validated through a multitude of gestures and convergent actions the return of Taiwan (Formosa) to the bosom of Chinese sovereignty after the defeat of Japan and the latter’s abandonment of its claims on the island. It is therefore pure diversion to assert, in the most infirm of formulations, that “Japan never gave Taiwan to China” – as if questions of sovereignty were settled in the mode of a commercial transaction or a free handover…[16] Sovereignty is not a good, a commodity that circulates from hand to hand, it is a form of power arranged around games of affirmation and recognition. At the end of the war, Japan simultaneously renounced its sovereignty over the colonial conquest that was Taiwan and handed it over to China, through the latter’s legal representatives. Japan relinquished its claim to sovereignty over Taiwan to the Republic of China, and this process was supported and endorsed by the US, then master of the island, and the international community endorsed it without dissent. The or the line of continuity that emerges from it, until the change of foot of the Western powers, having taken note, two decades later, of the irreversible character of the victory of the Chinese communists and the stabilisation of their regime on the continent. The recent change of heart by the US and its allies in their relations with China does not change anything to these historical facts. History is not written by back-projecting into the past arrangements that are in the present.

 

5- We can see here what is at stake in the politics of truth (by antiphrase) practiced by the «officials» and mercenaries of the narrative intended to detach Taiwan from Chinese history, with the stakes of legitimacy that are linked to it: the arguments and diversions arranged around episodes such as the San Francisco treaty are intended to blur historical intelligibility. They are nihilistic discursive operations insofar as they strive to substitute sophisms for arguments referring to historical facts. The people who conduct them ‘argue’ like lawyers engaged in defending an indefensible cause – the problem being that what is at stake here is not the dubious morality of one person or another but the integrity of the past as a constituent element of reality as it constitutes us in the present and in the common world.

The point is to show that in all circumstances historical intelligibility is doomed to give way to political expediency, the interests of the moment, the sacred egoism of power. The terrifying motif that emerges here is that anything is possible, anything is permissible – as long as it benefits ‘the cause’ and serves our interests. As Arendt points out, what is at stake here goes beyond lying in its traditional form: the cynical rewriting of history, based on the tinkering and sleight of hand that is at issue here, not only undermines the integrity of the facts, it aims at the disintegration of the intelligibility of historical facts. It calls into question the very possibility of putting together a historical narrative founded in reason and established on recognised elements of reality, a narrative radically different in this respect from a fable or a reconstruction of the past based primarily on the interest and subjective position of the narrator.

Those who practice this politics of the past and manipulation of collective memory are not interested in establishing historical facts, they do not enter into discussions conducted according to clearly established rules and placed under the sign of common decency (or, simply, intellectual honesty), but rather they relentlessly seek to render the facts of the historical past nebulous, or, as Arendt puts it, to place them under the undivided rule of opinion. Their job is to turn facts into opinions by disguising rhetorical magic tricks as reasoning. Simplistic formulas and tirelessly asserted tautologies (“China is China, Taiwan is Taiwan”…) replace documented argumentation in their prose; the logical sequences of reasoning and references to norms lose all substance and value in their statements. What interests them is the occupation of the discursive field, the volume of what they say, the mechanical effects of propagandistic repetition. References to sources or legitimised discourses are only ornamental in their writings, they never aim to give a real foundation to their position on the basis of solidly established knowledge. This is why these references are always the same, ritualistic and reduced to their simplest expression. These people don’t read books, they don’t study the critical literature on a given subject – they have a meagre stock of cards that they tirelessly shuffle and reserve – Orwell reduced to 1984 and brandished as the anti-totalitarian Holy Scriptures in all circumstances.[17]

What characterises today’s pen-pushers and mercenaries of Cold War nihilism is their cult of the performative, their exclusive interest in the effect of discourse, in the metamorphosis of the most emancipated statements from reality into facts of evidence, that is to say, shared opinion and cement of consensus: «End point: One China, One Taiwan».[18] The opening “end point” clearly indicates the idea that this variety of rhetoricians has of discussion and argumentation: as the title of an editorial in the organ of the independence party, written in the global language, these two words say the essential thing: that’s how it is, we’re the ones who decide, no more discussion! The decisionism of those who see themselves as both masters of the game and masters of the language is shown here in its native splendour.

That’s why these people don’t care about the contradictions and blatant inconsistencies that populate their discourses, nor about anything that distances their assertions from the best-known elements of reality; the only thing they care about is the synthetic reality that is arranged around the fabricated truths they put into circulation and the relations of force, the accomplished facts that they can link to this ransacking of language and discourses. Nihilism, in this respect, always begins and always shows itself, to begin with, in language and in the order of discourses. The rest follows[19].

 

6- Kant, in his famous “Answer to the question: what is the Enlightenment?” highlights the indissoluble link between the majority condition of the modern subject, freed from the condition of subalternity prevailing in traditional worlds, and his faculty of reasoning – that is, of arranging reasonings emancipated from the tutelage exercised by an external authority; on the other hand, he links knowledge to the motive of boldness – aude sapere! – knowledge of the world is associated with a form of courage, the courage to face reality and to rely on one’s own knowledge – as opposed to submission to revealed truths, dogmas, and pseudo-knowledge imposed by authority.[20] It is precisely against this disposition of the modern subject exalted by Kant that contemporary nihilism constantly tries to erect its roadblocks. Cold War propaganda and the so-called post-truth regime that supports it can in this sense be defined as the new dogmatic apparatus that underlies the crusade to restore Western hegemony, clothed in the trappings of global democracy, in an era when other irreducible, non-subordinate worlds and powers are emerging – primarily China.

 

Regarding the procedures for confronting the «officials» and mercenaries of the neo-imperial discourse, which is entirely organised around the fabrication of the ‘China threat’, it may be useful to refer to the position promoted by Bruno Latour regarding climate sceptics.[21] First of all, he insists, it is important to clearly define the type of discussion, exchange or polemic that those who are aware of the issues of climate change can have with climate sceptics. These debates, he says, can only be political and not ‘scientific’. The trap is to allow oneself to be trapped in a form of discussion in which it would appear that there are two positions, equally based on consistent arguments, or two opinions of equal normative status, which are in conflict – those who believe that there is a climate emergency and those who refute this position as a belief and an alarmist or apocalyptic illusion about the present.

On the contrary, we should start from the fact that climate sceptics are not legitimate interlocutors for a discussion on the substance, based on arguments worthy of being taken into account – even if we were to oppose them. If we are to talk to them, it is not this type of discussion that is at stake, but an exchange in the form of a political argument intended to expose in the public arena, in front of the public, the inanity of the climate sceptic postures – or, just as well, in the context of the pandemic, of the antivaccine pseudo-argument. What needs to be invalidated, says Latour, is the notion of an equal, courteous and democratic debate, based on an ethic of tolerance, between positions and opinions on the issue of climate change; a debate between proponents of positions of equal status and quality. The climate sceptics are, whatever the more or less devious nature of their rhetoric, whatever their titles may be, charlatans who play their part in making things worse by actively contributing to clouding the public’s judgment. They are spreaders of false news who, more often than not, are linked to the interests of the economic powers that prosper at the cost of destroying the planet – the enemies of Gaia, in Latour’s vocabulary.

 

It is precisely the same reasoning that must prevail with regard to the storytelling pen-pushers and mercenaries whose job is to construct the figure of the enemy (China and its allies, real or supposed) in the context of the new Cold War; whose job is to make the war-mongering discourse flourish and, ultimately, to condition Western opinion (and beyond) for a conflict designed to put China “in its place”, if possible precipitating the fall of the regime that emerged from the Chinese revolution and the victory of the communists over the nationalists. These agitators are not interlocutors in the context of a debate between people of good company, they are enemies whose weapons are propaganda and the construction of narratives legitimising the neo-imperial reconquest. They are professionals of agitation who don’t give a damn about the rules of discussion between specialists, academic or not, and whose titles, displayed at the foot of the columns they fill all day long in the regimented newspapers, are generally nothing but window dressing intended to display imaginary qualifications, particularly of an academic type. They are not specialists in the academic sense of the term, they are soldiers of lead, agents of influence, salaried lobbyists whose entire game consists of passing themselves off as qualified experts driven solely by a concern for the truth and alien to any ideological party.[22]

 

But these camouflages do not fool many people, so that the very notion of an exchange of views, even if contradictory, with them, involving rational subjects and respecting a communicative ethic – such a notion is meaningless: it should be based on the presupposition that the interlocutors interact in a peaceful world, according to rules based on a state of peace; but the prose of these activists is not only produced under the regime of total mobilisation, they are also and above all already at war, carried away by their line of death, the only intensity that carries their discourse is the execration of the enemy and the desire or the fantasy of his destruction. What makes them forcible nihilists is the very fact that the politics that underpins their discourse is all about vituperation against the enemy of the day – they have absolutely nothing else to sell, no programme, no hope, no projects, nothing other than the obsession with putting an end to this unbearable figure of otherness, so that everything can continue as before under the colours of American, Western, white-centred hegemony.

 

What characterises, among other things, our age as the age of nihilism is precisely that: increasingly, the politics of those in the state who associate themselves in the name of democracy, the politics of those who exercise power or aspire to do so, those who inspire, surround and support them, tends to be reduced to a shaping, a staging of hostility – a politics that devotes itself to giving consistency to the figure of the enemy and to arranging everything that takes the place of political thought and action around its detestation and the struggle against it; a politics entirely condensed around the mobilisation of negative affects, resentment, hatred, fear (etc.), and increasingly alien to any force of nature, to any force of proposal, any positive perspective for improving the conditions of existence of the greatest number. In Europe, this nihilistic policy crystallises in the form of the rejection of poor foreigners, migrants, xenophobia and Islamophobia. In the United States, in Australia, it combines the hunt for migrants and anti-Chinese rhetoric, the hunt for the “Chinese virus” and its local incarnations – Asian bodies – under Trump. In Taiwan, it takes the form of carefully nurtured anti-Chinese hysteria designed to replace any kind of political life worthy of the name.

Taiwan’s “vibrant democracy” is above all a vibrionic democracy built on the sad passions of the new Cold War. It is an armed democracy and its primary fuel is hostility. In the current phase of the confrontation, the soldiers of ideology, the manufacturers of discourse, are playing the leading roles in the current mobilisation. They are not people who reflect on the present situation, who try to elucidate and analyse its complexities, they are scribes whose job is storytelling this in the vast landscape of the new confrontation – as others are busy in intelligence, drones, electronic surveillance, arms sales, etc. The promotion of the Cold War and Sinophobia is their profession, their job and their business – just as others are active in lobbying for the tobacco industry or oil companies.[23]

 

Two final remarks: this war of the worlds that is taking shape before our eyes is unique and terrifying in that it awakens the most barbaric archaic: in the face of China and everything that can be focused on its image, the rearmament of the West brings to the surface strata that were thought to be deeply buried: it awakens the reptilian brain of the disoriented white man, whose assurances have been shaken by the rise of a power that embodies a radical otherness. The more the conflict between China and its now declared enemies is exacerbated, the more it goes beyond the framework of a struggle between “camps”, as in the first Cold War. It tends to become both a war of the worlds and a war of the species. Faced with China, the reptilian brain of the white man is awakening, and with it, “white thought”. White thought is not a question of skin colour, it is the reptilian brain of the “West” and all that is associated with it. Underneath the reconquesting spirit of the crusaders of hegemony, the defenders of the West, the pruritus of the white species, a global species, distinctly enraged at the idea of the advent of a world in which whites would have ceased to naturally occupy the place of the sovereign, can be discerned more and more clearly.[24]

The white world, the white species today, is a global power machine that is increasingly diversified and ramified, far from the Nazi (and other) fantasies obsessed with racial purity. It is a world of representations, practices, interests, it is the subliminal spring of hegemony. This white world, which gives up nothing, is eclectic and pragmatic – it unhesitatingly combines supremacist presumptions and assimilation procedures with the whole range of ‘useful’ non-natives – it now has ‘its’ Indians, ‘its’ Chinese, ‘its’ Blacks, ‘its’ Latinos and even ‘its’ Arab-Muslims, just like the European colonial empires had their contingents of indigenous troops at the time of the two world wars… But these additions do not change the efficiency of the machine on automatic pilot, whose horizon is, today as in the past, the perpetuation of the most fallacious of orders of things: that which is established on the whiteocentric presumption – this world that the white species has taken over from beginning to end, driven by an insatiable spirit of conquest. In the late stage of this global colonisation, the paradox is that in addition to one of the branches (or «franchise») of the hegemonic institution, the white order is impeccably embodied by non-whites – Taiwan, with its whiter-than-white ‘democracy’ subservient to the master across the Pacific, is a perfect example.[25] In Taiwan, the elites are impeccably “whitewashed” and they spare no effort to brainwash the population into desiring the tutelage of the Great White Protector – the US.

 

Finally, to take up a distinction brought back into the saddle by Philippe Descola (in relation to the Amerindian populations of the upper Amazon, commonly known as Jivaros), the “quarrel” between China and Taiwan does not fall into the category of inter-tribal warfare but rather into that of intra-tribal warfare. “Intra-tribal warfare is between people who are recognised as relatives and who share the same language and intercommunication community: they speak the same dialect, know each other personally and, in ordinary times, visit each other occasionally. It thus has all the appearances of a vendetta in that it is motivated by specific grievances – usually accusations of adultery or shamanic aggression – and that socially recognised mechanisms make it possible to bring it to a temporary conclusion or to prevent its extension”.[26]

In contrast, Descola insists, “inter-tribal warfare consists of alternating raids to capture heads for the tsantsa rite, which distinguishes it from the vendetta where the bodies of enemies are never decapitated [emphasis added]. The adversary is anonymous and generic, his relative otherness being measured by the fact that he must be close enough to share the same cultural identity (…) and far enough away to be perceived as different: he speaks another dialect and remains outside the field of kinship”.[27]

 

In other words, the primary issue in the Taiwan-China ‘dispute’ is that the intra-tribal war, a vendetta between relatives that can be settled by conventional and customary means, should not be hijacked by the inter-tribal war between China and its enemies – so that in the course of the dispute, we do not end up beheading each other, among ‘relatives’…

The circle comes full circle here, where we fall back on the purely archaic, with reference to the history of Taiwan and the collective imagination it nourishes: the ferocious beheadings to which the wars between aboriginal tribes (peoples) in the mountains of the island gave rise, hyperviolent paroxysms brought back to the stage and to memory a few years ago by the blockbuster film Seediq Bale...[28]

 

[1]    Hannah Arendt: The Crisis in Culture (1961).

[2]    Ibid. p. 304.

[3]    Ibidem, p 304.

[4]    Ibid p 304.

[5]    In Plato’s Gorgias, Callicles sets out his philosophy of power based on ‘natural law’: ‘Nature itself demonstrates this: that it is right for the better to have more than the weaker, and for the more powerful to have more than the more powerless. It manifests in many circumstances that this is indeed the case both in other living beings and in all cities and races of men, and that the just is thus determined by the fact that the stronger commands the weaker and has the greater share” (483e). This is precisely the reasoning behind the United States’ idea of its own legislation as universal.

[6]    There is only one step              from the idea that our law is what imposes its law on the whole world, an idea best shared among US leaders today as in the past and tirelessly supported and peddled by the mercenaries of the pen and the word, to this other ‘idea’ according to which the past is written according to the rules we set and according to our own interests. A step that is being taken with increasing ease in neo-imperialist warmongering propaganda.

[7]    Taipei Times, 23/12/2021.

[8]    Taipei Times, 14/11/2020.

[9]    Taipei Times, 7/12/2021.

[10]   George H. Kerr: Taiwan Betrayed, Taiwan Publishing, 1997 (1965).

[11]   I thank Ya-chiao Lee for drawing my attention to this document. Ironically, it is the supporters of independance who have ensured the recent circulation in Taiwan of this somewhat forgotten memorandum: a witness to the white terror exercised on the island by Chiang Kai Chek, Kerr vigorously took sides against this violence, before pronouncing himself in favour of the island’s independence – but nevertheless: what he saw in September-October 1945 remains and is authoritative…

[12]   Ibid, p. 86.

[13]  Ibidem, p. 105-106. At the meeting held in Cairo in November 1943, which brought together Roosevelt, Churchill and Chiang Kai Chek, it was decided, among other things, that Japan would have to return to China all the territories it had despoiled – Manchuria and Taiwan, in the first place.

[14]   An “argument” tirelessly repeated over and over again by one of the most radical of these salaried storytellers, Jerome Keating: “What most nations and people do not know, or forget, is that seven years after the end of World War II, when Japan ‘officially’ surrendered Taiwan in the 1952 San Francisco Peace Treaty, it gave Taiwan to neither the CCP nor to the KMT government in exile” – Taipei Times, 26/102020.

[15]   This is a blatant case of pure and simple erasure of a disturbing past episode – the funny thing is that 1984 is the holy Bible of these proselytes of the new hegemony…

[16]   Jerome Keating, article cited above.

[17]   A very convincing sign that we are dealing here with servile intelligence and not with intellectuals or specialists in the usual sense of these terms is that, of the immense and infinitely diverse anti-totalitarian literature or literature inhabited by the presentiment of totalitarianism, They have never heard of Wells, Huxley, Capek or Milosz, nor of Zamiatin, nor of Kolakowski, nor of Zinoviev, nor even of Solzhenitsyn – nor of anything ; in the end, they don’t have cards, they only have one: 1984

[18]   Taipei Times,  editorial, 9/11/2021.

[19]   On this point, again and again: Victor Klemperer: LTI, Lingua Tertii Imperii, Language of the Third Reich, 1996 (1947) and Jean-Pierre Faye: Langages totalitaires, Herman, 1972.

[20]   1784.

[21]   Bruno Latour: Face to Gaïa – eight lectures on the new climate regime, La Découverte/Les empêcheurs de penser en rond, 2015.

[22]   Chilling ‘headlines’ such as: ‘A retired US foreign service officer who has served in Taipei and Beijing and is now director of the Future Asia Project at the International Assessment and Strategy Center’; ‘J. S. who served as a China country director in the office of the US secretary of defense is a fellow at the Institute for Taiwan-American Studies and a member of the Global Taiwan Institute’s advisory committee. The essence of these ‘qualifications’ is to establish a perfect continuum between the academic (the university), the political (the executive) and the military. A continuum whose direct corollary is the disappearance of independent research and reflection.

[23]   Here we meet again Bruno Latour, who notes that “it is not accidental that the same lobbies that finance the climate sceptics have worked for so long to break the connection between cigarettes and our lungs” (op. cit., 4th lecture). There is a whole study to be made on the recycling of  mercenaries of  truth, from the promotion of one deadly cause to another…

[24]   Recently a «delegation» of French MP’s, devoted lobbyists of Taiwan paid a much publicized visit to the island , was welcomed with honors by President Tsai herself, etc- among these half-witted promoters of Taiwan’s independance, one is born in Dakar, Senegal, another is from Madagascar (Malagazy). But this makes no difference, this was a typical operation (having now become routine) placed under the sign of  the new war of species: whitewashing has become inseparable from the crusade against China and what helps promote it. In this respect, the etic French parliamentary commando (six people) was 100% and impeccably white.

[25]   The US is now establishing itself ever more distinctly as Taiwan’s ‘protector’ (against China) by more insidious means than it did in the Philippines in the early 20th century against the Spanish coloniser. But, in the final analysis, the gesture of the ‘protector’ here remains the same – indistinguishable from that of the predator. The US is not occupying Taiwan today, it is merely taking its population hostage in the context of its effort to contain and roll back the new Chinese power…

[26]   Philippe Descola: Les formes du visible, pp. 183-184, Seuil, 2021.

[27]   Ibid.

[28]   Taiwanese film by Te-Sheng Wei, 2011.

 

 

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