Writing in Al-Hayat, Hazem Saghieh urges his mainly Arab readers to prepare themselves for “the Great Frustration.”1 He has the specific post-Arab Spring predicament in mind, of course, but the Great Frustration would be another good name for the neo-imperial condition in general, in relation to alternatives that once upon a time or during all previous history could not, at least from any sublunary perspective, have seemed merely “tragic or comical”- the author’s description of attempts to integrate fractured polities by force, as if he knows some other means – but would have embodied the highest imaginable “resolution” known to our tragicomical species, the founding or downfall of nations and empires.2 The syndrome extends fully to nominally domestic politics, and not just in the countries of the former Third World, but is perhaps easier to discern on the international plane, where the denial of such destinies, of any new destiny at all, is written into the law above laws, and has been ever since the presumed final historical exam that ended in industrialized genocide, the nuclear incineration of cities, and the re-accelerated Americanization of the Earth. Like Saddam and Nasser, an Al-Sisi has nowhere to go, though after the others better knows it, and may simply accept the sense of relative security also enjoyed by fellow tragicomic impotentates from Tehran to Damascus to Washington DC and back round the time zones again: Such leaders are checked by local manifestations of a unitary geopolitics – here Israel, there oil, over there the free transit of container ships, but really the same problem under local conditions. As we know but are wont to forget, conquest in the traditional style, like the kind of full-scale disorientation and collapse that once upon a time might have invited if not demanded it, implicitly threatens transnational order on the same basis that over the longer arc of history the rise of the imperialist nation-state summoned the neo-imperialist world-state into concrete existence. The latter is never quite located. It is as it displaces, and is revealed, like God to the agnostics, apophatically: For ambitious individuals, peoples, and political movements in their frustration, in their diminution to tragic or comical or tragicomical, in the inconsequentialization and sub-ordination of the particular amidst the merciless and all-overwhelming pursuit of an inexpressible and relentlessly unsatisfying, yet indispensable and finally determining, supremely common interest. Fractured nation-states or pseudo-states or failed states or Hell-states beyond the limits in multiple senses of the term stand as typical exceptions, as active “sacrifice zones,” until the broad awakening to danger in viral or ecological or moral or mass murderous human form re-connects world extremes to world centers. Except at such moments, the form of resolution resembles a vast suspension of resolutions: The interposition of frustrations great and small testify to the continued existence of an actual hegemony, everywhere politically effective, nowhere politically visible, in other words negatively effective if otherwise seemingly absent, at least until some new challenge to its inherited shape requires its concrete re-extension or its epochal failure: opposites eventually identical.
- h/t Hussein Ibish as @ibishblog. [↩]
- Saghieh’s reference to Bonaparte is indicative here: Bonapartism like Caesarism announces the transition from consolidated republic to imperial super-state, and Bonapartism specifically represented Caesarism in a world whose limits had actually been traced, so were conceivably reachable under a corresponding extremity of effort. [↩]