of the end of the end [politics after {the end (of politics)}]

in an excellently titled early section, “I hate myself and I want to buy,” quoting Hobsbawm:

the “short twentieth century” “ended in a global disorder whose nature was unclear, and without an obvious mechanism for either ending it or keeping it under control.” This impotence was not, however, only due to the complexity of the problems themselves. After all, talking-up complexity is the trick technocrats have been pulling for 3 decades, with the sole purpose of lowering expectations. Rather the impotence lay “in the apparent failure of all programs, old and new, for managing or improving the affairs of the human race.”

— Alex Hochuli, George Hoare, Philip Cunliffe, The End of the End of History: Politics in the Twenty-First Century, 2021, 3 (all quotes below from this work; my italics)

now I might attribute this to the abrogation of human agency in human affairs (see here), itself a trick technocrats and technocracy have been playing for the whole of the short twentieth century, substituting the symbolic framework of a global financial system mainframe for the physical framework of reference comprising the material conditions of life and of human affairs. Hochuli, Hoare, Cunliffe however engage in class analysis, effectively; so effectively, their book is the best explanation, the best statement of the problem and most adequate image, of what the political is now that I have read.

…citizens [have] largely seemed resigned to leave affairs of the state to the “political class.” What [has] proliferated in the wake of this withdrawal [is] an “amalgam of slogans and emotions” that [can] barely be called ideology: identity politics and xenophobia.

So, what has changed since 1994 when Hobsbawm’s work was first published? The disorder is only too apparent now, and movements for “secure identity and social order” seem an adequate descriptor for the political forces that rule many Western nations, such as national-populism. But to see only uninterrupted disorder would be to ignore precisely the settled order that governed the End of History era.

The New World Order pronounced by President George HW Bush in 1991 promised peace and cooperation under the aegis of American leadership–indeed, its total hegemony. But it was not only in geopolitical terms that stability would be achieved. The whole way that national politics operated was premised on the withdrawal of citizenry from active engagement. In its place was “post-politics,” a form of government that tries to foreclose political contestation by emphasizing consensus, “eradicating” ideology and ruling by recourse to evidence and expertise rather than interests or ideals. Underpinning all this was an economic regime–neoliberalism …

–Ibid., 4

neoliberalism Mirowski is right in avoiding calling an economic regime or set of policies but rather a thought collective. It is as such it goes to the beyond-the-human use of symbolic logics, beyond-the-human in this case meaning as-close-to-the-speed-of-light-as-possible. If it is any sort of regime, it is one of time.

The victor of the twentieth century ideological struggle between communism and capitalism was, in fact, consumerism–“the ‘ism’ that won.”

Of course, it was capitalism that really won. But shorn of a systemic alternative, even the notion that we lived in a system called “capitalism” receded from view. Contemporary society came to be seen as a natural order instead of the product of conflictual historical development.

–Ibid., 5

the flattening of there is no alternative makes it difficult to distinguish a political realm or level separate from the economic or the cultural. The advantage of Hochuli, Hoare and Cunliffe’s approach is in defining the political as being based in conflictual historical development, that of traditional class conflict between the working class and the bourgeoisie, being the capitalist class proper, owning the means of production, able to buy the labour power of others so that it becomes a commodity among commodities. The authors refer more readily to the PMC, either as the Professional Managerial Class or the Professional Middle Class, however they do so in awareness of the dangers of eliding the PMC with the capitalist class. In fact they show the PMC to be split between the downwardly mobile service middle class and the merchant middle class, with a bias to the market. Again, this is a smart move.

the theme developed in The End of the End of History is anti-politics as it supercedes the post-political dispensation Fukuyama called The End of History, a period rather than event during which it was accepted that there was no alternative to liberal capitalism. Anti-politics signals complete disenfranchisement with representative political processes. It becomes political through public and even popular participation in events that work against the political, protests against government, for example. Anti-politics is epitomised by figures from outside the political class and those promising to take over political processes, ex-president Trump, for example.

…if it is clear that the End of History has ended, it is likewise evident that History has not restarted; what we are witnessing is further fragmentation, disintegration and drift. Fukyama’s own picture did not account for the fact that the order he described might crumble away. Meanwhile, none of his various efforts to modulate or restructure his thesis–to incorporate new populisms and new forms of identity politics–fully convince.

–Ibid., 30

Already, in the aftermath of the Al Qaeda terror attacks on the Pentagon and New York in 2001, the US neoconservative Fareed Zakaria proclaimed the End of the End of History, by which he meant the end of the supposed ease and comfort of the post-Cold War era that had been secured by the prosperity of global growth. Zakaria expected this era, by necessity, to give way to the curtailing of democratic liberties and a new twilight struggle that would rely on covert operations and proxy forces, much like the Cold War itself. Neoconservative Robert Kagan and strategic theorist Azar Gat saw the return of history in the growth of geopolitical rivalry between the West on the one hand, and Russia and China on the other.

–Ibid., 30

Politics is the home of the Left, whereas the quelling of political enthusiasm is the natural home of the Right. This stands to reason. Consider the recent historical trajectory: the End of History was initiated by the global defeat of socialism. The post-political order that followed was justified by an ideology that pretended to be non-ideological. It was in effect a mask for the untrammeled rule of capital. Where there is no systemic alternative, there is no politics. Therefore, when the Left falls prey to the logic of anti-politics, it signs its own death warrant.

–Ibid., 50

…not every revolt against the post-political is worthy of support. Often, these take xenophobic or exclusionary forms, or their anti-politics is a recursive and self-defeating dead-end. But it is important to understand why revolt takes the forms it does in our age. With traditional representatives of the working classes–the social-democratic parties–fully signed up to neoliberal globalization, there are few “respectable” avenues for protesting against economic and cultural degradation, nor political leadership to give voice to these sentiments in the appropriately coded forms of political discourse. Hatred, in the post-political era, is suppressed or invalidated, to the extent that even simple disagreement is pathologized. Dissenting expressions then explode in other venues, often on social media, raw and angry. And the more they are objects of censure, the greater the temptation to poke at elite sensibilities.

–Ibid., 54

…to state our position and definition: politics at its most essential is the demand for reordering statuses and upending hierarchies. It is a demand for equality; it is even the basic notion of contestation. The “end of politics” is a transhistorical tendency, for whereever politics emerges, there are forces trying to moderate it, ground it, smash it, transcend it or foreclose it. Politics is there of relative rarity. Anti-politics then emerges in earnest as a visible, regular concern at the End of the End of History. The strategy of depoliticization known as post-politics breeds an angry reaction: the institutions of formal politics come to be rejected by citizens. At the End of the End of History, anti-politics becomes the predominant force. The rejection of the old consensus politics (post-politics) and its precise forms, modes and representatives, does more than just express a negative mood. It also takes aim at political authority and representation itself; it is thus that politics itself is rejected, tout court.

–Ibid., 57

the positive definition of the political project here is less compelling than its negative definition. The former had me scribbling in the margins a question I have just erased: … the political project?

On the paradox of population sector most affected by NOBS (Neoliberal Order Breakdown Syndrome): This section of society assumes their views and predilections are common sense, while at the same time feeling constantly embattled. Another way to put this is that, while the “liberal package” (combining elements such as cosmopolitanism, respect for expertise, individualism, an emphasis on personal ethics) is culturally hegemonic, liberals refuse to acknowledge their own hegemony. …their political identities are founded on the idea of being “the good guys.” A less charitable interpretation would even argue that their interest in politics only exists insofar as it allows them to cast themselves as ethical actors. All this means hegemonic liberals could be moral critics from positions of relative comfort, content in the knowledge that the world would not really move against them, or even change appreciably.

But then it did.

–Ibid., 62

a persecution complex among some of the more well-off and influential members of society is another characteristic of NOBS.

We see the self-idealization of anti-Trump liberalism as the #Resistance, invoking the authority of anti-fascist guerilla struggle. In Britain, MPs developed their own complex: protestors who called ex-Tory MP Anna Soubry a Nazi, a traitor, and a fascist outside parliament had to plead guilty to causing the one-time leader of “The Independent Group for Change” “harassment, alarm, or distress.” In this way, speech acts are hysterically re-coded as threats at the same level as physical violence and intimidation. The consequence of this presentation of elite-as-victim is to allow relatively privileged members of society to mask their real economic and political power, and instead portray themselves as worthy of popular sympathy.

I have referred to this elsewhere as weaponised empathy.

…hollowness. Our political world has retained its external appearance, but if you crack open the shell, there’s nothing inside. We still have parties and elections and campaigns. We occasionally have big protests. Even trade unions still have some members (quite a lot if you live in a Nordic country or Belgium). Yet the reality is that party membership has declined, electoral participation has decreased and union density is much diminished. There is a void where “the people” should be.

–Ibid., 115


The End of History saw the full unfolding of long-term dynamics: the end of party government and its modes of popular sovereignty. Although the old vehicles remained–often, such as in Germany, the UK and the US, under the very same names–the 1990s and 2000s saw parties divest themselves of their substantive function of organizing social conflict and structuring political division. They became more appendages of the state–“cartel parties” in political scientist Peter Mair’s terminology–than organic social institutions. As the late Mair concluded: “The age of party democracy has passed. Although the parties themselves remain, they have become so disconnected from the wider society, and pursue a form of competition that is so lacking in meaning, that they no longer seem capable of sustaining democracy in its present form.”

–Ibid., 116

…without significant working-class participation, protest fails.

–Ibid., 124

this raises the question, Where are the working classes? and… What do they want?

the answer in part given by The End of the End is authoritarian populist leadership that is an agent of antipolitics. There is here also a reactionary sentiment, a desire for past securities represented symbolically by organised religions and institutions like the monarchy.

…broadly speaking, it is the young and middle class that are driving protest today. The divide is not only generational. There are two middle classes, divided socio-culturally. One is oriented toward the public sector comprising academics, public sector managers and professionals, lawyers, civil servants, teachers, [artists, musicians, ‘culture workers’] etc., the other toward the market. It is the former group who are increasingly mobilized in left-wing movements.

–Ibid., 125

the merchant middle class vs. the (downwardly mobile and increasingly precariarised) service middle class (whose values are in turn marginalised, bringing about the famous crisis in (middle class / liberal) values)

As information technology and other changes to labor processes destroyed less-skilled white-collar jobs, so political elites pushed higher education as a means of preparing a workforce for the new economy. This of course was a lie, as there were not enough new, well-paying jobs to mop up those new degree-bearing graduates… A generation faced the prospect of being worse off than their parents [and having to have paid for the pleasure, privilege, of … dashed expectations]…

–Ibid., 127


…state propaganda around the lockdown enjoined all citizens in collective responsibility for public health, and collective participation in protecting social interests.

It is, to be sure, a minimal and hedged form of national politics, a truncated embodiment of collective responsibility–“stay home” as per the message of so many governments. The form of this collective vision notwithstanding, the content is different to the persistent efforts of the past to shrink and strangle the public sphere over the last 3 decades, in which the public has been repelled from collective life, with the result that social order has been entrusted to lawyers, activists, remote governmental experts on transnational commissions, central bankers, technocrats, the market, CEOs… not to ordinary citizens. Unsurprisingly, this era coincided with the age of the consumer–the privatized, apathetic citizen-voter, encouraged to benefit from low inflation and cheap goods resulting from global trade and supply chains, and to consume politics, in turn, as a remote, mediatized spectacle offering different brands of essentially similar products, while not concerning themselves with the questions of how production functions, is organized and distributed. That was left to the supply chain managers, investors and trade negotiators, not unions or politicians.

–Ibid., 158

it was in other words left to economic rather than political actors and agents. The interesting thing about this view of the antipolitical is that it retains human agency. (see here)

I am more inclined to see it as a politics without the political because of the abdication of human reason to calculative and necessarily computational agency, for its being better, more efficient and faster than the human–and for that more reasonable. A posthuman (or postneurological) political function abrogated to intelligent machines.