The politics of intimidation punitive

Source: The Country. By Enrique Gil Calvo (professor of Sociology, UCM)


This title is a tribute to Michael Oakeshott, the philosopher, conservative-broke with the tories after the turn to neoliberal adopted by Thatcher, as his last will and testament intellectual published posthumously, although written 50 years before, was titled The politics of faith and the politics of skepticism. And, to paraphrase his short, we could say that the rhetoric of contemporary power fluctuates between the politics of hope, typically progressive, and the politics of fear, the more self of conservative thought. The politics of hope, we are very excited with the offer of promises exhilarating while the fear has risks and threats to come. And this ambivalence is given in the two sides of the ideological spectrum: the social democracy has past to offer more and better social rights to alarm the employees with the coming collapse of the welfare State, while the neo-liberals have left to entice the middle classes with speculative bubbles to pass to atemorizarlas with the fear of desclasamiento social.

Here I’m going to focus on the politics of fear, has a long tradition in the rhetoric of power, to suggest that we would be witnessing a copernican revolution in their approach to the argument. As I noted, we’ve gone from the old policy xenophobic, typical of the populism-sectarian, the new policy of intimidation, which is occupying its place in the present. Populism struggle for power (and exercised) by the sowing of fear and hatred of the other (the stranger, the adversary), depending on the matrix originally of nazism, hitlerite. Hence we can define rhetoric as partisan as the politics of the phobia. While the conservatism current, exemplified by chancellor Merkel, governing by what I call the politics of fear, used to impose fiscal austerity as a therapy against the crisis. And this other policy bullying is no longer based on instilling the fear of the other as the alleged perpetrators, but in awakening the fear of us in them. Let’s see schematically their conflicting political strategies.

The populist rhetoric of the phobia is founded (as a frame or frame-frame) in the dialectic of the friend and the enemy of Carl Schmitt. Its main objective is to divide the demos (the political community), generating hostility and antagonism to cause the confrontation polarized betweenus and them. And their targets derived are twofold. With respect to us, it seeks to inflame and mobilize the popular classes to be able to rally the fidelity election of their own social bases. And respect to them, try to isolate opponents, suppressing dissent and excluding minorities. In the method, the policy of the phobia is based on the invention of some enemy of the people to blame for all the ills real or imaginary. It can be any external enemy, as you can imagine the populist nationalism, but also an inner enemy, whether they be undercover agents, or castes, parasitic and unpopular, so if you are chaste impure (the outcasts, the immigrants) as corrupt (the banking oligarchy). Finally, the policy of the phobia requires the prosecution and punishment selective of the enemies designated as the guilty, in order to sacrifice them as scapegoats. And good recent examples of this rhetoric are the imputation to the PIGS in Europe and the PSOE in Spain as the alleged perpetrators of the crisis.

In contrast, the rhetoric of fear used as a frame the frame of the strict fatherof George Lakoff (popularized in his book don’t think of an elephant), but perhaps we should call it in our case the frame of the matriarch punitive, if we take into account that in continental Europe it is imposing Angela Merkel. Its main objective is to unify the demos to match erasing differences of class, identity, or status, seeking to generate a consensus, unanimous or at least majority that is likely to result in electoral support into power. This creates a spiral of silence that allows you to stop, inhibit and silence all the same, imposing a strict discipline of symbolic able to dominate them morally. And all this with the aim of getting a good grade, your conformist consent unanimously.

And your method part of the invention of any common sin that acts as a original fall (“we are all guilty of having lived beyond our means”), by distributing equally the responsibility for the evils suffered by the community. It is the case of the syndrome of sovereign debt (both public and private) to which it stands in ultimate cause of our misfortunes. And this alleged collective guilt is a threat of such magnitude that condemns all classes (both average as self-employed persons) to suffer a well-deserved desclasamiento social, with the loss of the paradise promised by upward mobility. Hence, the requirement of sacrifice and penance generalized as the only way to atone for the sins collective in search of redemption moral. Of this is responsible for the austerity policy of punitive dictated by the power, which does no more than further reinforce the punishment is indiscriminate in the form of poverty, inequality and desclasamiento general, so that it appears that in the sin takes penance. And an example of this vicious circle, what we have in the Budgets of Rajoy, who seek to save us at the expense of condemn us for our own good.

Of course, these two rhetorical strategies, the phobia and the bullying, that represent the two faces of the politics of fear, are not incompatible with each other. On the contrary, are often raised with ambivalence, well switching legs on or applying them simultaneously, one with left hand and the other with the right hand, so that they complement and balance each other. Thus, the policy of the phobia is used to blame and punish selectively to certain enemies, designated: as immigrants, the greeks or the unions. While the policy of intimidation is used to blame and punish indiscriminately to all equally, by the policy of austerity, punitive, seeking in this way by unanimous consent: bad of many, consolation of all. And that according to the proverb rescued by Toni Domènech for this sad occasion: “a little frightening, how much down”. Because the atoning sacrifice of the greeks, an astonishment of a few, represents an exemplary lesson that amansará many more, in order to get what he really intended: the submission general. A submission that the right Spanish is far from achieve, having regard to the electoral result of the Sunday and the general strike of today: far from amansarse, our popular classes seem to be willing to resist.


Enrique Gil Calvo
March 29, 2012


La política de la intimidación punitiva

Enrique Gil Calvo is professor of Sociology at the Complutense University of Madrid. Among his most recent books include Hurry, take (Taurus, 1995), The new weaker sex (1997), Average looks(2000), Born to change (Taurus, 2001), fear is The message(2003), The power-gray (2003), 11/14-M: The changing tragic (2005), The ideology of Spanish (2006), Masks male (2006). The political fight to the Spanish. Tragicomedy of the tension, (2009), chronic Crisis (2009).

Fields of research: Sociology of Gender and the Age, Family Sociology, Sociology of Culture, Sociological Theory and Political Sociology. He has published papers in journals such as Cuadernos Hispanoamericanos, Revista de Occidente, Revista Española de Investigaciones Sociológicas or Magazine of Youth. Is a regular contributor to the magazine Key of Practical Reason and a columnist in the newspaper The Country.

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