Düşünce ve Kuram Dergisi

Desire and ideology in fascism

Todd May

Reich is at his profoundest as a thinker when he refuses to accept ignorance or illusion on the part of the masses as an explanation of fascism, and demands an explanation that will take their desire into account, an explanation for­mulated in terms of desire: no, the masses were not innocent dupes; at a cer­tain point, under a certain set of conditions, they wanted fascism, and it is this perversion of the desire of the masses that needs to be accounted for.

(Deleuze and Guattari 1977: 29)

It is the task of this paper to show that the above quote is exactly half right. Fascism is a matter of desire. However, it is not only that; it is also a matter of ignorance or illusion. In fact, it arises at the point at which desire and ignor­ance and/or knowledge arise. In order to show this, we will contrast Deleuze and Guattari’s thought with that of a contemporary journalist who, to my knowledge, has not been brought into productive discussion with contemporary French thought. In What’s the Matter with Kansas? Thomas Frank argues that it is precisely a matter of ignorance or illusion (and for Frank, specifi­cally, ideology) that is operative in the dominance of conservative thought in America’s heartland. It is because the masses have been duped into believing an ideology contrary to their interests that Republicans have come to dom­inate that part of the country. As with Deleuze and Guattari, this paper will argue that Franks is exactly half right.

In order to place these two halves into a proper whole, we will need to appeal to a picture of desire and illusion that roots them in human practice. It is through a conception of practice that we can recognize that, in a sense, people can, under certain conditions, want fascism. This is true even though people rarely tell themselves that it is fascism that they want. Again, it is through a conception of practice that we can understand how people can be duped into endorsing fascism, even when it is against their interest. The conception of practice to be developed here will have affinities with the thought of Michel Foucault. Although Foucault does not offer a theoretical articulation of this conception, it can be said to be operative particularly in his more genealogical work.

In order to approach these ideas, I will start with a short summary of Deleuze and Guattari’s treatment of desire and then of Franks’s treatment of illusion. The goal is simply to situate the key elements of these discussions as a backdrop for the positive conception of practice to be developed here. Then I will return to these elements in order to show their proper place in that con­ception and, one hopes, to show the half-rightedness of each of these treat­ments. My claim for the alternative conception will not come in the form of an argument. I do not try to show that either Deleuze and Guattari or Franks is half-mistaken. Rather, I seek to put in place a conception of human prac­tice that is compelling enough that the way I situate desire and illusion will also seem compelling. That is to say, in keeping with Deleuze’s dictum in Dia­logues, rather than arguing at length against the reduction of fascism either to desire or to illusion, I will mostly ‘go on to something else’ (Deleuze and Parnet 1987: 1).

For Deleuze and Guattari, fascism, like much else in human commitment, is not a matter of ignorance or mistaken reflection. This is in keeping parti­cularly with Deleuze’s Nietzschean orientation toward human consciousness: that it is secondary or even epiphenomenal. For Deleuze, much of what makes us tick is unconscious. Consciousness comes afterwards. The vast majority of human experience and motivation happens outside our reflective awareness. ‘Underneath the self which acts are little selves which contemplate and which render possible both the action and the active subject. We speak of our “self” only in virtue of these thousands of little witnesses which contemplate within us: it is always a third party who says “me”’ (Deleuze 1994: 75).

This idea finds expression in Anti-Oedipus’ central claim that ‘the social field is immediately invested by desire, that it is the historically determined product of desire, and that libido has no need of any mediation or sublima­tion, any psychic operation … There is only desire and the social, and nothing else’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1977: 29). We must be careful in understanding this citation. It could appear to be more Rousseauian than it is. If we take Deleuze and Guattari to mean that there is only desire on the one hand and the social on the other, it would be only a short step to thinking that the social is an evil that represses desire. This would align their thought with Rousseau’s idea (at least in some of his moods) that organized society represses the natural goodness of human being.

However, this would be to forget the central idea of Anti-Oedipus: that desire is productive. If there is only desire and the social, it is because desire produces the social. Rather than, as with psychoanalytic theory, desire being desire for something, desire directly creates its objects. We can recognize here Deleuze’s distinction between the virtual and the actual. The actual is a pro­duct of the virtual. The virtual is a field of difference from which all actuality arises. The actual, in turn, emerges from the virtual, while still retaining the virtual within it. In the same way, desire produces the social. Now it may be that the social produced by desire in turn represses or transforms or distorts desire, as the authors argue Oedipus does, but this does not mean that the social is exterior to desire, or that it comes from something or somewhere else. As Deleuze insists throughout his career, there is no transcendence, only immanence. Deleuze and Guattari note in What is Philosophy? of all the illu­sions of philosophy, ‘First of all there is the illusion of transcendence, which, perhaps, comes before all the others’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1994: 49). To say that there is only desire and the social, then, is to say that there is only desire and what it creates, which includes the social.

On this view, if there is a problem of fascism, it is a problem of desire rather than of illusion or ideology. ‘It is not a question of ideology. There is an unconscious libidinal investment of the social field that coexists, but does not necessarily coincide, with preconscious investments, or with what pre­conscious investments “ought to be.” That is why, when subjects, individuals, or groups act manifestly counter to their class interests … it is not enough to say: they were fooled, the masses have been fooled’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1977: 104). The picture Deleuze and Guattari are trying to overcome here is a traditional Marxist one. On this picture, the reason the masses do not imme­diately seek their own interests – which would necessarily be revolutionary ones – is that they have been ideologically deceived. They have been con­vinced that their interests are aligned with, rather than contrary to, the inter­ests of the ruling class. If this is right, the political task would be to educate the masses, to get them to recognize their true interests. Otherwise put, the first task of political struggle would be to overcome the ideological blinders that have prevented the masses from seeing their true interests.

The problem with this picture is, in Deleuze and Guattari’s view, that it sees things the wrong way around. It is not that we come to desire fascism rather than revolution because we mistakenly believe that fascism is good for us. Rather, it is because we become invested in fascism that we come to believe in it. Desire as a form of unconscious creation and investment comes first. In fact, from this perspective it does not even matter whether we believe in fas­cism. We can be entirely cynical and believe in nothing at all. Politics is not a matter of belief; it is a matter of what we desire. To ask why it is that the masses form beliefs that are against their own interests is to ask the wrong question; it is to ask a question at the wrong level. ‘We see the most disadvantaged, the most excluded members of society invest with passion the system that oppresses them, and where they always find an interest in it, since it is here that they search for and measure it. Interest always comes after’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1977: 346).

Even to ask why we desire fascism is to mistake the political project. The goal instead, which is the project of schizoanalysis, is to recognize the character of libidinal investments and then to see what can be done to make those invest­ments more revolutionary. ‘The first positive task consists in discovering in a subject the nature, the formation, or functioning of his desiring-machines, inde­pendent of any interpretations’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1977: 322). The second task is ‘to reach the investments of unconscious desire of the social field, insofar as they are differentiated from the preconscious investments of interest, and insofar as they are not merely capable of counteracting them, but also of coexisting with them’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1977: 350). Rather than interpreting reality for the masses so they that can come to see what is oppressing them, to recognize the fascism which they have been duped into embracing, schizoa- nalysis aims to discover the particular investments one makes into the social field and then to counter them with other, more revolutionary, investments.

This, I would argue, is why Anti-Oedipus is written in the way that it is. There has, of course, been much commentary on the style of the book: its energy, its use of curse words, its slash-and-burn treatment of Lacan and others. How­ever, if we treat the style as something exterior to its message, we miss the point of that style. If the political goal were one of convincing people to believe otherwise than they do, then there might be something juvenile about the writing, but that is not the political goal. Rather, it is to get people’s desire going in another direction. Anti-Oedipus seeks to realign our desire more than our belief. It seeks to follow its own message that we ask not what something means but how it works. That is why, when Foucault claims in the preface to Anti-Oedipus that it is ‘a book of ethics’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1977: xiii), he is right on target. It is a book that seeks to get us to live differently, not by convincing us of better ways to live, but by offering desire (as well as philo­sophy and critical social thought) another way to invest in the social field, which is to say another way to create.

If, for Deleuze and Guattari, ‘the concept of ideology is an execrable concept that hides the real problems’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1977: 344), for Thomas Frank ideology or illusion is precisely the heart of the matter. In What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America, Frank seeks to understand the Republican strategy from the Regan years of the 1980s to the Bush years of the early 2000s (the book was published in 2004, prior to the second term of the Bush administration), to win the support particularly of middle America and, for Frank’s purposes, of Kansans. What puzzles him, which is not dissimilar to what puzzles Deleuze and Guattari, is how people can be brought to support policies that are directly opposed to their interests. Where Deleuze and Guattari undercut the primacy of the concept interests, however, Franks seeks instead to remain precisely on that terrain. His strategy is to show that by focusing on certain cultural issues, the Republicans have been able to gamer support for their economic programs, which is really what motivates them:

The movement’s basic premise is that culture outweighs economics as a matter of public concern … Over the last three decades they have sma­shed the welfare state, reduced the tax burden on corporations and the wealthy, and generally facilitated the country’s return to a nineteenth- century pattern of wealth distribution … The leaders of the backlash may talk Christ, but they walk corporate.

(Frank 2004: 6)

Frank’s critique can be seen as part of Marxist tradition of ideology critique, although he is not, to my knowledge, a Marxist. His view is that by getting people to focus on what have come to be called ‘wedge issues’ – abortion, homosexuality, violence and sex in movies and on television, evolution, etc. – they can be enlisted in support of the Republicans, for whom these issues matter less than transferring wealth to the economic elites. In fact, as Frank points out, there has been very little change on the wedge issues over the years. When Republicans assume office, they rarely give more than lip service to those issues. (Abortion may be a bit of an exception here, although it is still fun­damentally available to most women, even if it is more difficult to obtain.) On the other hand, there has been a massive transfer of wealth from the poor and middle class to the rich, in accordance with Republican economic policies.

This massive transfer of wealth has been devastating for Kansas. While companies that locate in Kansas receive various economic perks, Kansans find themselves in dire economic circumstances. In Kansas in particular, eco­nomic deregulation has led to extraordinary wealth for agribusiness, while leaving most Kansans far worse off economically. ‘Indeed, over two-thirds of Kansas communities lost population between 1980 and 2000, some by as much as 25 percent. I am told that there are entire towns in the western part of the state getting by on Social Security; no one is left there but the aged. There are no doctors, no shoe stores. One town out here even sold its public school on eBay’ (Frank 2004: 60). What Frank describes has not, of course, been lim­ited to Kansas. David Harvey, for instance, who writes more self-consciously in the Marxist tradition, has detailed a global shift of wealth during the course of the neoliberal period (dating roughly from the 1980s to the present). ‘After the implementation of neoliberal policies in the late 1970’s, the share of national income of the top 1 per cent of income earners in the US soared, to reach 15 per cent (very close to its pre-Second World War share) by the end of the century … And when we look further afield we see extraordinary concentrations of wealth and power … ’ (Harvey 2005: 16-17).

How has this transfer of wealth been able to go unopposed by those who have been its donors? What is the role of cultural wedge issues in blunting this opposition? For Franks, the wedge issues help erect a distinction between two kinds of people, those elites and us regular folks. Some of us regular folks may have money, but we’ve earned it the old-fashioned way. Those other folks are just lucky, and don’t deserve what they have. ‘Class, conservatives insist, is not really about money or birth or even occupation. It is primarily a matter of authenticity … In red land both workers and their bosses are supposed to be united in disgust with those affected college boys at the next table, prattling on about French cheese and villas in Tuscany and the big ideas for running things that they read in books’ (Frank 2004: 113-14). Wedge issues, then, function as ideology. They do not so much cover up the fact that there are disparities of wealth as contextualize and minimize it.

For the Republican strategists, wedge issues don’t operate simply by getting one to focus attention on cultural issues while the economic disparities are being created. On the contrary, these disparities are being created openly. In order to be able to do so, Republicans operate by creating and/or reinforcing

a particular sense of identity among those in what are called the ‘red’ states. That identity consists in humility as opposed to arrogance, reverence as opposed to atheism, and ‘above all, a red-stater is a regular, down-home working stiff, whereas a blue-stater is always some sort of pretentious paper shuffler’ (Frank 2004: 23). Once this identity is created, wealth can be transferred and people impoverished as long as that transfer is being made to others who are just as ‘red’ as oneself. Moreover, if there is blame to be assigned for the circum­stances in which one finds oneself, it belongs not to those who share one’s identity but instead to those who do not. As I write these words in May 2010, the Tea Party stands as exemplary of this element of Franks’s analysis, blaming Washington, Wall Street and immigrants for the current economic straits of the United States. While the last of these is not an elite ‘blue’ group, it is a population that is said to be favored by that group because it doesn’t under­stand the trouble caused to real people by immigrants, who, after all, are not really part of ‘us.’

We might pause a moment here to consider the relationship between two terms I have invoked together: illusion and ideology. Frank does not make the distinction, although it is perhaps worth marking. Ideology is a matter of beliefs. However, of course, that doesn’t distinguish it from science or the study of ethics or anything else with an epistemological character, including illusion. The unique character of ideology is its way of working with beliefs. It works by getting people to develop certain beliefs that will have the effect of making other things happen, things that are the real goal of those instilling the beliefs (or of those who, while not seeking to instill them, still benefit from them). Ideology, then, does not have to be a matter of illusion. One can believe, for instance, that abortion is wrong and also believe, correctly, that liberals sup­port abortion rights, but if one votes out of these beliefs for someone who, while opposing abortion, is more interested in supporting policies that enrich the wealthy, then one is subject to ideology. Opposition to abortion becomes ideological in character.

Often, however, ideology is aligned with illusion. In Frank’s analysis, the creation of ‘red state’ and ‘blue state’ identities in order to support conservative policies involves not only correct beliefs but illusory ones as well. For instance, one belief underlying support for Republican policies is that a free market will make life better for ‘down-home working stiffs.’ Of course, it has not. This is an illusion. As we have seen, it is a persistent illusion, since it remains strong in the face of all evidence to the contrary.

Moreover, there can be something illusory in the ideological use of abortion as well. If the Republican strategy of wedge issues uses abortion and identity in order to press an economic agenda, and if, as Frank seems to imply, their real concern is not at all with the former but only with the latter, then those who vote Republican are under the illusion that those they vote for will press their causes in a serious way. As we have noted, once in office it is the economic rather than the social issues that take precedence. To this extent, illusion and ideology converge in that people are voting against their interests at all levels.

One might object here that Frank’s analysis is closer to Deleuze and Guattari’s than the summary I have offered here suggests. For instance, one might insist that we read Frank’s view not as the creation of an ideology but rather as the creation of a desire from which certain beliefs go. On this view, the Repub­lican strategy is to create a sense of identity that becomes the object of desire, a desire that, in the end, works against the interests of those who succumb to the strategy. Below I will argue that such a view, a view that places desire beneath belief, is misplaced. The two must be intertwined. However, in Frank’s case this seems to get matters the wrong way around. To be sure, there is desire. Without the identification with the sense of identity the Republican strategy fails. However, the desire is based upon a certain set of beliefs, beliefs about who ‘we’ are and who ‘they’ are. Without these beliefs, the desire does not come into play.

Franks’s view of the conservative Republican mode of operation, of ideology that mixes certain (perhaps) correct beliefs with certain illusions, is exactly the kind of analysis that Deleuze and Guattari oppose. It is an inversion of their proposed relationship between desire and illusion. As mentioned at the outset, I want to argue that both Franks and Deleuze and Guattari are half right. Both of them are seeing something, but neither of them grasp the whole pic­ture. Before I turn to my alternative picture, let me pause momentarily over the fact that we have not discussed the question of what fascism is. One might wonder whether Franks is really talking about fascism in the sense that Deleuze and Guattari mean it in their approach. If not, then the contrast I have set up is a bit forced.

Deleuze and Guattari say very little about what they think fascism is. Foucault, in his preface to Anti-Oedipus, probably offers the closest definition when he writes that, ‘the major enemy, the strategic adversary is fascism … and not only historical fascism, the fascism of Hitler and Mussolini … but also the fascism in us all, in our heads and our every day behavior, the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1977: xiii). For Deleuze and Guattari, fascism is not a particular arrangement of the state or a relation of the state to its population, but instead a form of oppression that is often embraced by those who are oppressed. If we remove the libidinal aspects of Foucault’s definition (which are precisely what is at issue in this discussion), then it is in keeping with Franks’s analysis, one that asks how it is that people can endorse and even embrace what oppresses them, as well as others.

It seems to me difficult to deny that Deleuze and Guattari are right to dis­cover an aspect of desire in fascism so defined. There seems to be something erotic about fascism. We can see this in the passions through which people embrace their own oppression. Even the phenomena Franks discusses, the cultural orientation of recent conservatism, evoke strong vehemence and zeal among those who stake their identity there. On the other hand, to reduce fascism simply to a matter of zeal – to divorce it from belief – seems to render it blind. After all, people do not only embrace fascism; they can always tell a story about why their endorsement of (what they do not call) fascism is justified, and even mandatory. Franks captures this belief-character in his approach.

If we want to concede something to both Deleuze and Guattari’s focus on desire and Frank’s ideological orientation, we need a picture of ourselves that will integrate both. I would like to sketch this picture here, and then show how it can incorporate both these elements of the analysis of fascism, elements that we might call, a bit loosely, the volitional and the epistemic elements. This integration hinges on the concept of practices, through which these elements can be seen operating in complementary ways. Let me first define the concept of a practice, and then turn to the role practices play generally in our lives and then specifically in supporting and maintaining fascism.

Elsewhere, I have defined a practice as ‘a regularity (or regularities) of behavior, usually goal-directed, that is socially normatively governed’ (May 2001: 8). Regularities of behavior are doings of the same thing, as long as we understand by ‘the same thing’ a loose sort of sameness. The practice of bicycle riding, for instance, involves peddling a bike. There are many ways to peddle, but all peddling is the same thing in the sense I mean. It is a regularity of behavior, like prescribing medications in psychiatry or talking with students in teaching or recounting the events of the day in diary writing or running the bases in baseball. Almost all practices, moreover, are goal-directed. Bicycling is a form of transportation, psychiatry seeks to cure people of psychiatric pro­blems, etc. This does not entail that people who engage in a particular prac­tice do so because of the goal. I may just enjoy riding a bicycle and not care where it gets me. However, the practice itself is structured around the goals of getting from one place to another. The reason I use the term ‘usually’ is that there are practices that, it might be argued, are not goal-directed. The obvious example is sitting Zen, whose proponents argue cannot succeed if one has a goal in mind. (Whether the particular goal-lessness of Zen should be called a goal is neither here nor there for our purposes.)

The normative governance of a practice consists in both the rules and the ways of doing things that are constitutive of that particular practice. Practices tend to have rules, without which one is not said to be engaging in that par­ticular practice. To fail to follow a rule is not necessarily to be doing something bad; it is simply not to be engaged in that particular practice. If I bring out a deck of cards and start playing solitaire in my classroom, I am likely no longer engaged in the practice of teaching (unless, of course, I am trying to illustrate a pedagogical point in doing so, in which case I’m not really playing soli­taire). More pointedly, if I am supposed to be torturing someone, and I begin to educate them on the fine points of how to endure torture, I may be doing a good thing, but I’m not really engaged in the practice of torture at that moment.

Not all norms of practices are rules. There are ways of doing things, often involving bodily movements, that are ‘like so’ but cannot really be brought under particular rules. When one is learning to ride a bicycle, and the bike starts to sway, one learns to swing it back, like so, in order to stabilize it. In fact, learning to be expert in a practice often involves mastery of many of its non-rule norms. A good teacher has a sense of when to stay with a particular issue and when to move on to the next one, just as a good hockey player gets a sense of just the right instant to cross the blue line.

Having said this much about the normative governance of practices, how­ever, we should also recognize that, for most practices, normative governance is not static. Norms can evolve over a period of time in response to changing circumstances, and one can challenge the particular norms of a practice (or even the practice itself, as one challenges the practice of torture). To return to the example of playing solitaire in class, if one insisted on solitaire as a particular technique with particular results in pedagogical practice, it might become a norm of the practice. This does not mean that it would be required of all those who participate in a practice. Practices have both norms of requirement (if one doesn’t follow this norm, one isn’t in the practice) and norms of per­missibility (one is allowed to do this or that in the practice but it is not required in order to be engaged in that practice).

Finally, the normative governance of a practice is social. This is a point insisted on by Wittgenstein in his private language argument (Wittgenstein 1953). There is no such thing as a private practice. To be engaged in a practice is to be engaged in something that is socially recognized as a particular kind of practice.

Once we see what a practice is, we can immediately recognize that most of what we do over the course of our lives involves being engaged in practices. Jobs, hobbies, child-rearing, athletics: all of these are practices. In fact, out­side relaxation and random activity, almost the entirety of our lives are taken up with participation in practices. That is to say, most of our lives are, in one sense or another, socially normatively governed. We should be neither sur­prised nor disturbed by this. There is no cause for surprise because people are, for the most part, social animals. We interact with other human beings on a regular basis. Those interactions are regulated in various ways. To say that they are regulated is not to say that they are pre-determined in their patterns, any more than to say that a baseball game is regulated is to say that its out­come can be known in advance. The social normative governance of practices is not necessarily a straitjacket; it is, more usually, a framework that allows us to interact meaningfully with one another. It is indeed difficult to see how meaningful interaction could occur in the absence of norms.

When does normative governance become a straitjacket? Otherwise put, when can it take on a more fascistic character? There is no one way for this to happen. It could be that the practice itself is defined by norms that make it fascistic. The practice of torture would be an example of this. The norms of tor­ture combined with one’s engagement with it as a practice render it immedi­ately fascistic in the sense defined a moment ago. Alternatively, it could be that the practice itself is benign, but that the introduction of certain norms makes it fascistic. Imagine, for instance, the practice of psychoanalysis being governed by a norm that required all successful analysis to integrate people back into society so that they endorsed the current social arrangements. Or yet again, the norm itself could be benign under certain conditions, but be held so rigidly that it is applied even when it becomes inappropriate to do so. Here one can imagine a society without a military draft that establishes a voting age of twenty-one. Later, it votes for a draft for those between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one, without allowing the affected members a say in the institution of the draft. That would have a fascistic character, at least on the part of those who endorse the vote. The relation between norms and fascism, then, is a complex one, having less to do with the fact of norms and more to do with their particular character and operation in particular circumstances.

The concept of practices, I have argued elsewhere, plays a central role in the thought of Michel Foucault (May 1994: chapter 5). In Foucault’s genea­logical work, practices are the principal unit of the level of analysis. As he once insisted during a discussion of his history of the prisons, ‘the target, the point of analytic attack, is not that of “institutions,” nor of “theories” or “ideology,” but of “practices” … practices considered as the site of inter­twining of what is said and what is done, of rules that one imposes on oneself and reasons that one gives oneself, of projects and proofs [evidencesY (Foucault et al 1980: 42). Practices are where knowledge and power take place. Although I cannot give a full accounting of that claim here, let me point out that, for instance, the disciplinary power discussed in Discipline and Punish arises within the intersection of various monastic, military, penal and health practices, just as the power of sexuality in the first volume of the History of Sexuality arises through a convergence of religious, architectural and therapeutic practices. These practices, as Foucault insists, involve knowledge, or at least claims to knowledge. They require, and in turn generate, various kinds of claims that are committed to by those engaged in the particular practices. The commit­ment to these claims is holistic. People do not need to commit themselves to all of the various claims generally held in a practice. Just as with the norms of a practice, its epistemic claims can be questioned. However, to be engaged in a practice requires commitment to the broad epistemic outlook framed by that practice. For instance, to be engaged in psychoanalysis requires that one be committed to some idea of the unconscious, to some concept of the role that language plays in the human mind, etc. As Wilfrid Sellars insists, ‘empirical knowledge, like its sophisticated extension, science, is rational, not because it has a foundation but because it is a self-correcting enterprise which can put any claim in jeopardy, though not all at once’ (Sellars 1963: 70).

It is precisely here, in the general epistemic commitment that practices require, that we find the epistemic commitment to fascism that Frank discusses. It is because people’s lives take place largely in the context of practices, and because practices involve ways of knowing (or claiming to know) that fascism arises as an ideological matter, or, more accurately, as an epistemic matter. In order to see this, let’s take an example from contemporary discussion: abortion. As Frank discusses, the anti-abortion movement has been particularly strong in Kansas politics. The roots of this movement lie, of course, in fundamentalist versions of Protestantism as well as in the Catholic Church. It is unsurprising, then, that the anti-abortion movement is not simply about abortion. It reflects a larger overall view, one that has to do with the nature of families, the role of government and the primacy of certain religious values. As Frank points out, Kansas’ traditional, moderate Republican candidates ‘who had patiently worked their way up the party hierarchy for years were seeing the positions they coveted filled instead by some holy-rolling nobody screeching against big government and interested only in doing away with abortion and taxation’ (Frank 2004: 97).

How is this a matter of practices? It is a matter of religious practices, which involve knowledge (or claims to know). Essentially, the picture is this. To be committed to, say, a conservative Protestantism is, among other things, to be committed to a certain set of practices. These practices are not only ritualistic expressions of faith. They involve ways of living: what kinds of things one can do and cannot do, how to raise one’s children, how to interact with family and neighbors, etc. Further, these ways of living are inextricable from certain beliefs. These beliefs include the view that abortion is wrong because it takes a fully human life. They also include the wrongness of homosexuality. Positively, they involve beliefs in the moral rightness of the traditional family, hard work and keeping what one has earned. One might be tempted to ask whether these beliefs are matters of knowledge or matters of faith. However, for those involved in these practices, that would be a distinction without a difference. The knowledge arises from the faith; an account of knowledge as something like ‘justified, true belief’ would be inappropriate here.

It is worth noting that in a work that pre-dates his collaboration with Guattari, Deleuze offers a denunciation of illusion that is compatible with the analysis we are offering here. The introductory chapter of his book Bergsonism sees Bergson as involved in a ceaseless struggle against illusion. Although the details of this struggle are a bit wide of our concerns, what is central to Bergson is to get free from the grip of a picture that oppresses us. That picture (which in Bergson’s case primarily concerns the relation of space and time) does not only give illusory solutions to the questions we ask; it sets up false problems. ‘The very notion of a false problem indeed implies that we have to struggle not against simple mistakes (false solutions), but against something more profound: an illusion that carries us along, or in which we are immersed, inseparable from our condition’ (Deleuze 1988: 20). On this view, the illusion in play in the Republican strategy described by Franks, for instance, would be the identities ascribed to ‘blue’ and ‘red’ state residents, from which the false solution of voting Republican would follow.

Seeing these practices as matters of knowledge is not difficult. Neither is seeing them as matters of desire. Practices have both epistemic and volitional elements. The volitional elements exist along two registers, one related to the commitment to the practices themselves and the other in the relation of those practices to one’s sense of who one is. The first is internal to the involvement in a practice. To be committed to a practice is not simply to ratify its claims to knowledge or some certain number of those claims. It is to engage oneself in that practice through one’s behavior. For most of us, even that is not enough. A teacher, for instance, who does not more than behave according to pedagogi­cal norms and endorse the beliefs required by those norms may well be alie­nated from the practice of teaching. She may be just going through the motions. One can imagine her saying, ‘Yes, I believe in the rightness of teaching, and I’m still doing it, but my heart isn’t in it.’ A person like this is certainly engaged in the practice of teaching, but in an impoverished way. This impoverishment might not be a bad thing: one who is just going through the motions of tor­turing people might not be quite so interested in causing pain to another. However, we would say of a person like that that she isn’t fully committed to the practice.

Full commitment is a matter of desire, and desire in a sense very close to the one articulated by Deleuze and Guattari. It is not desire as a Lacanian lack; it is desire as creative and productive. If, for Deleuze and Guattari, desire produces, then the desire involved in one’s commitment to a practice is also productive. It involves a connection to other beliefs, behaviors, things and others, in ways that are not foreign to many of the descriptions offered in Anti-Oedipus. Although not all the connections discussed by Deleuze and Guattari are ones involved in practices (for example the connection of mouth to breast), many of them are. The reason not all of them are is that Deleuze and Guattari are offering a more general ontological view rather than the restricted regional one that focuses specifically on practices.

This leads to the second way in which practices are bound to desire. To be alienated from one’s practices is to feel that somehow what one is doing is not deeply tied to who one is. Conversely, to be immersed in practices in a moti­vated way is to draw a sense of who one is through one’s involvement in those practices. The answer to the question of who one is often centrally requires reference to the practices in which one is engaged. One is a mother, a teacher, a swimmer, etc. In this tie between one’s practices and one’s sense of oneself, desire plays a central role. This is not the type of desire we saw a moment ago; it is not the productive desire of being immersed in a practice. Rather, it is the desire that binds one to one’s practices, that makes them constitutive of who one is. Some practices, of course, are more significant to one’s sense of oneself than others. As we will see momentarily, it is those practices – espe­cially religious and economic ones – that often come into play in the creation and promotion of fascism as Deleuze and Guattari define it.

Practices, then, have both epistemic and volitional elements; they are both matters of knowledge (or, in some cases, ideology) and desire. We have not yet answered the question of the relation of practices to fascism. Given the discussion so far, however, it is only a short step to see that some practices either are fascistic, or promote fascism in combination with other practices. In the case of the conservative ideology discussed by Frank, this is manifest. Neither the conservative Christianity nor the Republican economic program he treats is tolerant of different forms of living and acting. They are both very circumscribed in what they consider to be acceptable forms of behavior. For the former, those forms centrally involve traditional gender and family rela­tions as well as certain relations to one’s work. These are what the Republicans have exploited in their attempt to create a sense of ‘red state’ identity. For the latter, it is a matter of endorsing and allowing the spread of a free, unregu­lated capitalism that, in Frank’s view, benefits those who contribute to the true objects of Republican solicitude: the economic elites.

The intertwining of these two groups – conservative Christians and Republicans – lies in the use the latter makes of the former in order to create the particular sense of red state identity that allows the latter to maintain power, often at the expense of the interests of the former. In that sense, one can say, contra Deleuze and Guattari, both that fascism is often a matter of interests, and that people can be fooled into acting against their own interests. It is a matter of interests in that the interests people have that stem from their practices can be fascistic. We can see this in two places in Frank’s discussion. First, the interest the Republicans have in maintaining the domination of eco­nomic elites has led to support for fascistic practices of conservative Chris­tianity as well as for linking those practices, via a conception of self-reliance and hard work, to free-market capitalism. Second, the interests conservative Christians have in their religious views, and the importance of those practices to their sense of who they are, has led them to support economic practices that are oppressive to many people.

Among those who have been oppressed by the economic practices sup­ported by conservative Christians are the conservative Christians themselves. This is the third place at which interests can be fascistic, and it is the central point of Frank’s book. People have been duped into supporting and partici­pating in economic practices that have been detrimental to their interests. Those practices have been economically destructive to the lives and commu­nities of people in Kansas, and elsewhere. This has been allowed to happen in large part through the support of Kansans for practices that have been linked to the practices that they have come to define as determinative of the kinds of people they are.

However, this is only half the picture. Very little of what I have described in the last few paragraphs has been a matter simply of epistemic mistakes. It has also been a matter of desire. This desire emerges in several ways, perhaps most palpably in the virulence with which conservative Christians treat those they think of as ‘blue state’ people. The anger against ‘pointy headed liberals’ and others who do not share in the red state identity Frank analyzes are subject to deep, and at times violent, vituperation. The demonstrations of the current Tea Party movement provide abundant evidence of this. People whose identity comes from its commitment to conservative Christianity react strongly to any­thing that seems to threaten their sense of who they are. This, of course, is not true only of conservative Christians, but of many of us under conditions in which we feel our sense of self to be threatened – which means that desires linked to fascism may not be far from most of us. If who we are is bound to our practices, then those practices are not matters simply of epistemic ratification but of engagement and motivation. They are objects of desire, or better they involve habits, actions and outlooks through which our desire is channeled. If they are fascistic, then we must say that this is because people desire fascism. If that fascism is oppressive to the people immersed in those practices, we can say, or at least half-say, that ‘the masses were not innocent dupes; at a certain point, under a certain set of conditions, they wanted fascism.’ In accounting for the kinds of fascism discussed by Deleuze and Guattari, then, we can say that it is not solely a matter of state forms but instead lies within, or potentially within, each of us. In order to understand it, we must look both at its epistemic and the motivational aspects. We must see the fascism both in what we think and in what we want and create. We do not, or at least very few of us, think anything we tell ourselves is fascistic. Rather, it emerges in the practices in which we engage. It arises not because we desire fascism but because what we desire is fascistic; it arises not because we believe in fascism but because what we believe is fascistic. As a result, we must be vigi­lant about fascism, not only among conservative Christians but among our­selves and our own commitments. What we desire and what we believe have consequences that are often beyond our own reckoning. It is not, then, just those others on whom we must keep an eye, although they have given us much reason to do so. We must also keep an eye on ourselves, lest the critique of fascism we employ become a type of fascism that we embrace.



  • Deleuze, G. Bergsonism (New York: Zone Books, 1988)
  • Difference and Repetition (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994)
  • Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (New York: Viking Press, 1977)
  • What is Philosophy? (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994)
  • Deleuze, G. and Parnet, C. Dialogues (New York: Columbia University Press, 1987) Foucault, M. et al., L’impossible prison (Paris: Editions de Seuil, 1980)
  • Frank, T. What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2004)
  • Harvey, D. A Brief History of Neoliberalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005) May, T. Our Practices, Our Selves: Or, What it Means to Be Human (University Park: Penn State Press, 2001)
  • The Political Philosophy of Poststructuralist Anarchism (University Park: Penn
  • State Press, 1994)
  • Sellars, W. Science, Perception, and Reality (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul- Humanities Press, 1963)
  • Wittgenstein, L. Philosophical Investigations (New York: MacMillan, 1953)



Translated from English to Turkish: Kürşad Kızıltuğ







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