“If one is to rule and continue ruling, one must be able to dislocate the sense of reality.”
In the past weeks, if anything had become clear at all, it is this: the more glaringly obvious the consolidation of power, the silencing of dissent, the attack on workers becomes, the more desperately the media-backed elites are trying to hide it. None of these things, we hear, takes place. And the left - the professionals, administrators, academics, NGOs, foundations, the government-funded art scene, teachers, journalists - do their bidding as usual since the start of the pandemic in the biopolitical restructuring of society from hardcore to Orwellian dimensions of neoliberal authoritarianism. Because the left has traded places with the identitarian and technocratic right of the 1990s to act as gatekeepers of the status quo, I would not be surprised if we were to see a revival of pre-2010s rules of discourse: if you must use the term ‘capitalism’, don’t address anything by it. Least of all a class society.
The denial of objective reality - that we live in a class society with an unprecedented class war from above in the framework of pandemic politics - is the main discursive procedure in this political reconfiguration. An important ingredient in this dish to be served cold to the subjects is “Marie Antoinette-ism”, recently promoted by the New York Times, as well as one Stephanie Ruhle of MSNBC who not only said: "If you do not want to get vaccinated, you can work from home…You can home-school your children. You can shop online", but revealed a “dirty little secret”, namely that “while nobody likes to pay more, on average, we have the money to do so …Household savings hit a record high over the pandemic, we didn't really have anywhere to go out and spend." In the face of the biggest upward transfer of wealth in modern history, high inflation, and wages hitting an all-time low in the United States, accusing Ruhle of “tone-deafness” would be an understatement. This is more like “next level out of touch stuff”, as another conservative commentator said on Twitter.
But it’s not only that the reality of workers and ordinary people is being denied. Pundits argue that the increasing refusal to comply to state orders, such as lockdowns, vaccination mandates, masks, downloading tracking apps, etc. was the result of a “parallel world” sense of reality emerging from alternative medicine, the spiritual scene, Rudolf Steiner, and (surprise, surprise) federalism. Oliver Nachtwey, one of the more eagerly conformist pundits in the academic world whose career in sociology owes to the thoroughly unoriginal and loyalist character of his publications, tells us in a recent interview that people protesting the Covid regime in the Germanophone world only care about their “radical individuality” and deny others the “solidarity” with a state-ordered medical intervention: “Basically, it's about radical individualism. And vaccination as an act of solidarity is not perceived.” We are made to believe that the insistence on the foundational rights of the German constitution (bodily integrity, freedom of movement, freedom of speech) is entirely coming from cranks hooked on esotericism, anthroposophy, and homoeopathy - devoid of any political interest. Indeed, the denial of the political and economic dimension in critiques of the Covid regime is the main feature of the common leftist view, as I’ve argued elsewhere, and Nachtwey, being a leftist sociologist, and therefore doing the job of a leftist sociologist, does his best to reproduce this distorting narrative. But the declaration of a non-existence of a political motivation in the vast majority of the critics, hallucinating them as apolitical nutjobs, also implies a denunciation of the very civil rights underlying the conventional liberal-democratic state as “loony idiosyncrasies”. One must be particularly ignorant not to think of the Nazi’s snobbish disrespect for human rights and basic principles such as universal brotherhood and international understanding, not because they did not think of them as politically useful, but because they were rooted in enlightenment philosophy and the beginnings of the political citoyen in contradistinction to the sujet of authoritarian rule. The disavowal of universal rights as “misguided individualism” is a common feature of totalitarian biopolitical statehood, whether today, in states promoting harsh breaches of said rights like Germany or Austria, or historically, for example during the Japanese ultranationalist early Shōwa era (1926-1945) whose population was tellingly perceived as forming a “national body” (kokutai). In Principles of the National Body, a widely disseminated state pamphlet published in the wake of the war with China whose purpose was the ideological mobilization of the population, we can read:
“A society built on individualism is one of struggles between people. Thus, it may appear to be the history of class struggles. However, such social structures and political systems ... are essentially different from those of our country, where harmony is considered the fundamental way [of the Tennō].”
Individualism bad, class struggle bad - “harmony” good. What used to be “harmony” is now called “solidarity”, that most perverted term in the denunciation vocabulary of the Covid regime that readily identifies refusal to comply to state measures as “sociopathic”. Of course, Nachtwey is not a Nazi. But he is an excellent modern representative of state authoritarianism historically advocated by Nazi and ultranationalist ideology, though he is by no means the only one in the spectrum of pundits from the humanities vying for the most state-loyalist take.
Yet there is a more striking parallel to historical examples of biopolitical authoritarianism to be discerned: a radical snobbery, condescension, aloofness, disdain, disinterest, and outright contempt for the lower classes resulting from a radical detachment from their life world. As Japanese philosopher Yoshimoto Takaaki noted, among others, looking back to the “failure of the intellectuals” both of the left and the right in the 1930s, the rise of elitism was premised on a deep suspicion against “ordinary people” and a strong impetus to encase and consolidate middle and upper class political and economic interest against the “proles”.
But while left-wing intellectuals before the war still envisioned a way to “educate” the worker to be more in line with a social democratic state consensus, all that is left today is a deep and cynical paternalism of left-wing academics towards alleged “anti-science” ordinary citizens, now renamed “Corona-cranks”, and a common readiness to dismiss their concerns as “misguided”. James A. Smith has recently diagnosed three main features of left-wing paternalism within the framework of the failures of Corbynism: first, anti-populism, a “misanthropic suspicion of “the people” as tendentially reactionary, racist, and ignorant”, second, hyper-partisanship, “a reflex to blame “the Tories” and their supporters, rather than the four-decade cross-party neoliberal consensus”, and, third, the retreat from class, which, well, is obvious.
However, there is more at stake than the obvious point that the left presents the main enemy of the working class and working-class interests today. If left-wing academics have lost the grip on the everyday reality of the “proles” and underclass, it is because they - the elites - live in a “parallel universe”. It is not the critics of the regime measures who are “egoistical”, self-centered, narcissist, and “radically individualist”, inhabiting a “parallel world”, but the elites and their pundits sitting at the leverage of power. This is because their own economic and political interests are not threatened by the regime’s social restructuring. They can do without civil rights, either because the technocratic solution seems preferable, or because, e.g., the right to free speech has been ‘pre-emptively’ denied in the academic world anyway, or both. But for working people, the difference between the possession of civil rights and the non-possession of civil rights is life-defining. The right to organise, e.g., collective bargaining, the right to strike and assemble, the right to free speech, the right to privacy after a long day of working under surveillance devices, physical integrity, freedom of movement, and the right to a social life and the consumption of entertainment to counter-balance the drag of the early/night shift is essential to someone working at Amazon, IKEA, waiting tables, construction, as an assembly line worker, a “facility manager”, in child or in health care. Of course, someone like Nachtwey is ready to give up what he can dispense with. In his social and professional position, the sacrifices are minimal. But for someone working at IKEA, they are not. The denial of basic civil rights and freedoms within the dictates of the Covid regime are a class war from above. Nachtwey and misanthropic journalists like Christian Stöcker, following the logic of self-interest and narcissism by denying workers their basic rights, act as footsoldiers of capital in this war against the working class.
Moreover, the arguments of left-wing intellectuals against critics of Covid measures are based on projection. The life world of the PMC intelligentsia constitutes a parallel universe growing from their refusal to see that class differences necessitate different needs than one’s own. This also includes that the reduction of humans to “bare life” we are witnessing in intellectual debates on Covid completely misses the point: for what is the point of a life that is not lived? Intellectuals, having lost their grip on reality in a fearful fetishization of the virus and saving life “at all costs” do not understand that for many ordinary citizens, life is not a value per se - but living it. The often-antiseptic work environments of intellectual labourers have sensitized them towards disease and contagion and desensitized them for the value of human interaction (even before Covid, online teaching/learning was widely accepted practice in higher education). This is what makes them so susceptible to technocratic restructuring and theories espousing an “epidemiological view of society”, with humans reduced to “objects”, “nodes”, and “vectors”. But this technological concept of bare life (zoé), denying the dimension of actually having to live it is an unrealistic concept for most ordinary citizens. The logic of the Austrian Covid regime reproduces this contradiction between “bare life” and a life lived by ordering a general lockdown for the populace: if humans are reduced to contagious or medical vectors, then what purpose does life serve? What is the meaning of life devoid of living it, devoid of the enjoyment of the presence of others, of having political meetings, of strikes, parties, sex, a drink out, seeing a live band, going to the movies, spending a day with the kids in the zoo? The narrative created by the progressives that bursts with the contradiction of an elitist imposition of frugality and renunciation for the proles while one’s own disclaimer on pleasure has never been at stake will sooner or later have to answer to this question.
And whether it is sooner or later, is up to us, and us alone.
Cover photo: Kajagoogoo - Too shy (video still, 1983).
 Principles of the National Body (Kokutai no hongi), published by the Ministry of Education (Monbushō) 1937, p. 50.
 Yoshimoto Takaaki, Geijutsuteki taikō to zasetsu (Artistic resistance and Failure), Tokyo: Miraisha, 1957.
 The article was forwarded to me by the author: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2021/11/labour-party-left-corbynism-covid-19-response-proportional-representation-voting-contradiction.
 See Stöcker’s public relations campaign for the Biontech/Pfizer vaccine in Der Spiegel: https://www.spiegel.de/wissenschaft/mensch/corona-pandemie-die-vierte-welle-ist-politisch-kolumne-a-9a0a057f-53f0-42cc-b63d-5d65bc80ea5c
 The argument of “protecting the health care system” is not only a lie in the face of declining hospitalisations, but cynical: the same elites that promoted the neoliberal demolition of public health care are now the ones asking us to “reduce demand” in the face of a “health emergency”. See
 George Orwell, “1984”, Penguin 2002 (1949), p. 242.
Outstanding also. Thanks.
You likely know the leftist U.S. based sociologist Christian Parenti, but if not, you must read his recent essay published though nonsite.org, which is a magnificent piece of cultural and political archeology. In it he discovers a deep connection between Marcuse (more specifically his third wife Ricky Sherover-Marcuse), Scientology and the privilege walk of contemporary EDI, corporate wokeness, Robin DiAngelo (pthhh!) et al. Find it here: https://nonsite.org/the-first-privilege-walk/ It "squares the circle" as they say, between Frankfurt School and 60's west coast self-absorbed self-enhancement, setting the stage for the ridiculousness that is the current left.