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Re-Thinking Politics Today: Elements of a Critique of Political Liberalism in Southern Africa: Michael Neocosmos



Introduction
Today, our ‘democratic’ totalitarianism is all the more firmly entrenched. It is now more necessary than ever that those with free minds rise up against this servile way of thinking, against this miserable moralism in the name ofwhich we are obliged to accept the prevailing way of the world and its absolute injustice.
Alain Badiou, 2001: iv

Increasingly in our post-Sept 11th 2001 World, the hegemonic discourse emanating from the West as it interpellates the Third World ‘other’, seems to be saying that people should agree to Western, state-dominated, (neo) liberal political thought and massive funding for human rights-based ‘good governance’ initiatives will be provided. If this ‘other’ does not submit to such one-way thinking by having the temerity to be different, the military might of the same liberal West could be deployed to physically obliterate difference.

This may seem farfetched, but what are we to make of the juxtaposition of militaristic thinking in the resolution of international differences on the one hand - a militarism which eschews all discussion and debate - to the aggressive pursuit of a human rights culture in Africa which purports to emphasise such debate on the other? This question is particularly pertinent when both of these perspectives emanate from what seem to be the same or similar state or supra-state institutions. Under such circumstances, one is entitled to ask whether militaristic and human rights/’good governance’ discourses are not complementary discourses, two sides of the same liberal coin, rather than simple accidental juxtapositions. After all, the introduction of human rights discourse was first aggressively pursued in Africa only after the Western powers had retreated from direct colonial domination of the continent, but when they were keen for Africa to remain within their sphere of economic and political influence and when military might was deployed to ensure that they did so, within the period of the cold war.

Today, more and more, politics appears as ‘the continuation of war by other means’. We are therefore entitled to ask whether economic and political liberalism are not complementary, and whether militarism is not a way of ensuring the dominance of both? Doesn’t such militarism tend to give rise to nationalist militarist thinking among the dominated, and as a result, aren’t the possibilities of genuine democracy (and not just of human rights) developing thereby sacrificed all over the globe? After all, militarism whether of the imperialistic or of the nationalistic variety, does not and cannot distinguish between state and people so that, in its politics, it is contemptuous of human life itself. In order to be on the side of life today, it seems that we need to be on the side of human emancipation. The World we live in is dominated by systematic anti-democratic thinking. The hegemony of this mode of thought and politics must be challenged; liberal ‘democracy’ - which has always been fully entwined with imperialism - is not the high point of Western, let alone of human, civilisation, neither is it the end of history as some maintain. The supposed upholding of human rights ‘at home’ has always been accompanied (some would say necessarily so) by their systematic negation ‘abroad’; isn’t the imposition of ‘rights’ and ‘freedoms’ through force of arms, not a continuation, in new forms, of an old imperialist, and thus a fundamentally undemocratic, project?

This Report results from a longstanding dissatisfaction both with existing political alternatives in Southern Africa and with the manner in which they are conceived in hegemonic liberal discourse as reflected in the writings of journalists and academics in particular. The political alternatives of hegemonic neoliberalism typified by South Africa on the one hand, and state nationalism as experienced perhaps most evidently in today’s Zimbabwe on the other, are state-propagated alternatives. Yet irrespective of the ideology, the people of Africa are continuing to endure what seems to be a never-ending crisis of oppression manifested in daily violence emanating fundamentally from the state itself.
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