Sunday, March 23, 2014

We Need to Pass the (Healthcare) Bill So that You Can Find Out What's in it...

The latter's utter contempt for the majority found expression in a curious but significant detail; even the Irish representative in Brussels publicly acknowledged that he had not read the text of the Lisbon Treaty. In other words, voters were being offered a text which they were effectively not expected to know -- they were supposed to trust blindly in the expertise of the Brussels elite. This tragicomedy of the European Constitution thus increasingly resembles the situation in Franz Kafka's short story, "The Problem of Our Laws," about a country in which the laws are not generally known, since they are kept secret by the small group of nobles who rule the population -- the people are governed by laws of which they are ignorant (and, here, more than ever, the metaphysical presupposition of the rule of law -- ignorance is no excuse, one is guilty in the eyes of the law even if one did not know the law -- holds). In such a situation, the very existence of the laws is at most a matter of presumption -- some decide that the laws they are trying to unravel may not even exist. The conclusion to be drawn from the story is this: since no subject knows the laws, since all are compelled to trust the interpretation of the laws proposed by the nobility, then in effect, if any law exists,it can only be whatever the nobles decide it is, for the sole visible and indubitable law imposed upon us is the will of the nobility. This is how the gap between law and power (extra-legal violence which sustains the rule of law) is (and has to be) inscribed into the legal edifice itself: as the unknowability at the heart of the law itself. Power cannot assert itself directly as naked violence: in order to function as power proper, it has to be sustained by the mystical aura of the law, so that, when it violates (what appears to the subject as) its own explicit regulations, this violation is grounded in the mystical abyss of the unknowable/ invisible Law.

Therein resides the lesson in the way the Brussels bureaucracy -- our "nobility" -- reacted to the Irish "No": Kafka's story describes not a pre-modern order of obscure authoritarianism, but the very core of the modern legal order. This is increasingly what our politics, with its "free democratic choices," is becoming: we are quite literally required to vote on (that is, confirm) complex texts which are beyond our reach. What Europe truly needs, on the contrary, is a short programmatic constitution clearly stating the principles of what "Europe" stands for as against other predominant social models (US neoliberalism, "Asian values" capitalism, and so on), perhaps --why not?-- on the model of the US constitution.
- Slavoj Zizek, "Living in the End Times"

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