James Clark

The End of the End of the End →

14 February, 2022

Sam Kriss has written an excellent review of The End of the End of History: Politics in the Twenty-First Century. In it, he gives probably the most succinct description of the current anti-politics era that I've seen:

Food might be political now, and sitcoms, and novels, and every conversation with everyone you’ve ever known, but the sole exception seems to be politics itself.

​I spent my early years in the climate movement flirting with anti-political thought. Occupy Wall Street had achieved more in a few months than most of the political movemenst I had been a part of for my whole life. I wasn’t alone in believing that there was more hope in vague manifestations of people power and protest than there was in electoral politics. But Brexit and Trump in 2016 was a clear reminder that we vacate politics at our peril. And again, when street protest became untenable in early 2020, it was clear that our ambivalence towards state power had only resulted in a complete lack of it for our movement when it mattered most.

The 2010s were dominated by what the authors call “anti-politics”—movements focused on “inside” and “outside” more than left or right. Inside is the managerial elite, the corrupt nexus of business and politics, the Deep State, the Establishment, the dead consensus at the End of History. Outside is—well, what?

Anti-politics is what happens when the old order is crumbling, but there simply isn’t anything to replace it. You get undirected expressions of anger and spite, a rejection of all institutions and all forms of mediation or representation. This can give rise to some strange and morbid symptoms. For instance, the current president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, was previously the star of a TV comedy in which he played an angry outsider who unexpectedly becomes the president of Ukraine.

The authors [Alex Hochuli, George Hoare, and Philip Cunliffe] lay out all the weaknesses of anti-politics, but they still insist that “anti-politics can be politicizing”—that by reengaging the masses and putting the whole system in question, it opens the way to a genuine politics. Except there’s nothing to suggest this is actually happening. If anything, I finished the book less convinced than when I began. Instead of a challenge to the End of History, anti-politics looks like its last line of defense.

I have been arguing for a while now that the left needs to return to politics which, I think, is often misunderstood as merely a focus on electoralism. A return to politics means we take the job of democratising corrupt and broken institutions seriously, including, but not limited to, political parties and state power. Returning to politics and contesting for institutional power is never going to be easy, but the alternatives are, at best, hopelessly naive, or worse, outright nihilism. We don't have the time to indulge those things.

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Hey, I'm James Clark. I’m an organiser, writer and social movement nerd based in Melbourne, Australia. You can read more about me here.