olitical discourse and practical politics

Aleksandr Shchipkov

"The triumph of information means the death of politics," Politicians and journalists turned this statement by Pierre Bourdieu into a catch phrase. However, the following fact is often overlooked: this statement was made by a left philosopher and is not just an aphorism. It characterizes the whole recent epoch. The epistemological conflict designated by Bourdieu is, in fact, an old problem of correlation between "words" and "things" set up by Michel Foucault, This problem reaches logical conclusion when dealing with the situation of complete separation rather than types and degree of conformity.

What was the reason for that separation?

It is common knowledge that the history of ideas in the information society can be clearly traced to the history of words. The most illustrative example is the phenomenon of political correctness, the roots of which go back to the 1960-70's. It all started with several authors of the French newspaper Libération (in particular, Serge July, André Glucksmann and others), who were considered the disciples of Jean-Paul Sartre and eventually figured out how to reduce the level of xenophobia in society. To ease the tension and to reconcile different social, religious and national groups, it was sufficient, in their opinion, to replace the hate language into the language of political correctness. All the contradictions were expected to disappear on their own accord. In the presence of growing social tension, social reality itself required serious changes. Instead, the practice of manipulation of corresponding knowledge broke out. Certainly, the contradictions did not disappear then. Only one thing changed: the audience lost its ability to analyze and find the causes of social processes. Instead, the audience was taught to "chat up" the social reality i.e. to "reprogram", "restart", "re-define" and perform other information manipulations.

This way, political linguistics emerged along with the well-known linguistic philosophy. The principle of "language against reality" quickly became commonly accepted. The use of language programming techniques in political processes grew to be more and more confident and extensive. For example, today's CNN managers "provide their journalists with a glossary of taboo words and hold daily meetings devoted to "thorny subjects". Everything related to nationality, race, religion, class position, material status, second-class works, gender, sexual orientation or health is deemed thorny."[1]

However, there was not only an absolute prohibition against undesirable notions at the heart of the described political kitchen. In many cases, a substitution of notions took place: embarrassing concepts were often replaced with face-saving ones, which were accompanied with a changing of semantic accents.

Today, this practice is used more than ever. Take for example the concept of modernization, which was in demand after the collapse of the socialist camp. This concept addressed former Soviet bloc countries and invited them to take their places in the international division of labor, emerging as a gentle and politically correct synonym for colonial dependence. However, this term was chosen and was weighty as "perestroika and acceleration" during the Gorbachev era. The concept of modernization is widely used in today's Russia. Economists focus on it extensively. In addition to the above, it entails the financial dependence of the country on global capital markets and external credits (against the background of their regular subsidy assistance through the Reserve Fund). This concept also increasingly entails one more thing: the preservation of Russia's disadvantageous position in the international division of labor.

The events of 1989-1991 enriched the newest dictionary of the liberal politicum. In addition to "modernization," the productive vocabulary of political language included a broad range of new concepts, as well as concepts not so relevant in the past. Another popular expression was "the end of history." It became popular due to the philosopher, political scientist and political economist Francis Fukuyama and his book The End of History and the Last Man. [1] The expression contained a clear message of quite radical content. It was not just drawing a line under the "bipolar" era and not the so-called trend to Marxism. The point was that world politics should abandon historicism and clear the political language of all historical definitions. To abandon in favor of what? In favor of a new political metaphysics with the concept of the global liberal consensus in its center. Such is the reality of language politics. What about real politics? Of course, the idea proved to be utopian. The "consensus" did not work out. The part of the world not included in the living environment of the "golden billion" did not accept the new order the tightening of economic policy and the policy of westernization. Several attempts to take a position of negation were also noticed in certain locations (i.e. Saddam's Iraq). Apparently, the political linguistics supporters came to the consensus that the time of linguistics had passed and the course of police brutalities had arrived.

These measures were described in detail by political scientists and military analysts. We are interested in the political language itself: it is important to understand how the global policy tightening a "crackdown" in the world politics triggers the change of key concepts in political language. For example, Fukuyama's "end of history" was replaced with the concept of the "clash of civilizations". This concept was introduced by American sociologist and political scientist Samuel Huntington.[2] Such changes should be considered highly significant events. These replacements or substitutions of notions indicated the readiness of the world's elites for the war between the North and the South. With this objective in view, a radical change of language politics was proclaimed. Along with the notions of the global economy, cultural and civilizational differences returned into the global language. There is no doubt that this was a throwback, or, more precisely, a remake. It does not matter who proclaimed this first Professor Huntington or Iranian Ayatollahs professing mirror ideas of jihads when combatting the infidels. The side of the aggressor and the side of the victim can be revealed based on the difference of weight classes of the two conflicting entities.

In the 1990's, linguistic programming techniques were widely applied in social processes. Among other things, they justified the U.S. military aggression against the Third World countries and Europe. The military actions in Iraq and Yugoslavia were simply renamed as "humanitarian bombing" and "peace-compelling operations".

This practice evolved incrementally. The pro-American government in Kiev hesitates to call the events in the southeast Ukraine the simple and clear word "war". The dead are 'dead,' not 'deserters.' The supporters of self-determination are 'other-minded', not 'separatists.' Thus, the myth of information was born, which absorbs and obscures the politics itself.

The situation is extremely alarming, but natural in its own way. After all, the linguistic politicum from the very beginning assumed that society should accept a new form of social life collective solipsism. This is a necessary condition for a "painless", although not bloodless, separation of informational images from reality. In essence, this approach is in no way different from the principles extracted by Berkeley, the philosopher and author of the solipsistic doctrine ("To exist is either to perceive or to be perceived", "physical objects are mere complexes of ideas" and so on).

The well-known philosopher Andrei Ashkerov wrote about the origins of social solipsism: "The Old World considered utopia as an off-the-map place in strict accordance with the etymology. The United States associated utopia directly with themselves and identified themselves as a location where something unprecedented had occurred... Psaki represents an individual embodiment of such solipsism. Even though anyone else could be in her place, the unremarkable qualities of the "representatives of American solipsism" indicate that a carrier is not so important. The solipsistic adjustment turned into a political program is the most important thing. The more routine the American "lifestyle," the stronger the feeling of an American that he or she was allowed to be present at the unique "creation of the world". The latter is something between a laboratory experiment and a direct fulfillment of the God's will. The American nation takes on the mission of both the collective Messiah and the collective natural scientist with politics as its second nature and research subject."[3] The only addition to the above-mentioned: nowadays, this specific feature can be confidently attributed not only to U.S. culture, but also to the Western political culture. Indeed, in the intellectual sense, the relationship of "the U.S.A. the West" is equal to "the West the rest of the world".

Unfortunately, the principle of collective solipsism is the basis for modern mediasphere, political strategy and international policy. The history of the Malaysian Boeing shot down over Ukraine in 2014 is a remarkable example. The Ukrainian government bars fair investigation of the shooting for all it is worth. Instead of expert findings, Ukrainian and American authorities offer unfounded conclusions and photographs with "holes in the ground" of unknown origin to the public.

However, the history of the concept of fascism is almost the most significant in the context of the current events in Ukraine. In recent decades, it has undergone tangible transformations. At first, this narrow specific term (within the meaning of "the Mussolini's regime") was extended to a generic term and synonymously identified with the concept of Nazism. Then, Hannah Arendt, Karl Popper and their followers attempted to dissolve the concept of fascism in a more general and less specific concept of "totalitarianism." Such a rearrangement of terms allowed to displace the theme of "German guilt" (as well as all the Axis powers) from 20th century history. Moreover, the theme of World War II could be deprived of moral evaluation criteria in just the same way, by removing such key terms as "aggressor", "victim", "genocide" and "ethnic war" from it. Thus, language politics has set the stage for revision of the results of World War II. First, on the terminological and secondly, on the moral, social and political levels. These processes perfectly agree with the semi-official policy of "history normalization" established in today's Germany (that is, the refusal to admit its guilt for the outbreak of war with the USSR).

It is interesting to note that along with the displacement of one concept with another ("fascism" "totalitarianism"), the word "fascism" has suffered an uncontrollable loss of its clear semantic shape. Today, it is practically divorced from clear socio-political definitions and is a synonym for the evil incarnate ("the devil and all"). At first glance, it's natural. However, if a word loses its semantic border, it ceases to indicate specific events and turns into a phenomenon within language politics. In short, it becomes useless.

Up to the beginning of the Ukrainian events of 2013-2014, the word "fascism" signified a quasi-religious term, a kind of a secular curse shouted by almost everyone. It almost turned into a performative utterance (such as "thank you", "I'm sorry", "get out"), which, according to the author of the speech act theory George Austin, "doesn't describe any event, because, in contrast to a constative utterance, it is an action itself. To utter a performative statement means to perform the appropriate action, for example, to order, to promise or to give a name."[4] The problem remains that such statements are not subject to verification. Each of them is a referent itself. That is why the word "fascist" ceased to be a definition and a social diagnosis. It has turned into a designating gesture and a way to insult an opponent. It is no longer enough to say "I'm not a fascist" in reply to the unfounded accusation of fascism and demand an explanation and (or) an apology. The only way to distance yourself from fascism today is to call someone else a fascist, a person who most likely applies the same epithet to you. In this sense, the concept is completely eliminated.

When an inappropriate notion is used as a performative one is indicative a negative downturn. The denoted subject still remains unnamed, gets out of social control and ends up outside the system relations of language and society. The displacement of political reality occurs. The result of such a situation is simple and sad. Real fascism cannot be traced and recognized in society as such.

This result is one of the reasons, which made the events in Ukraine possible. Unfortunately, in the course of these events we observe the expansive and open neo-Nazi revival based on Bandera's ideology. Moreover, a healthy public reaction to it is tragically delayed. This process does not possess only economic and geopolitical reasons. One of the reasons lies in the destruction of social immunity due to the forced transformation of fascism from a political into a linguistic political phenomenon. As a result, society did not have enough time to react. The epistemological gap between politics and language politics made the society vulnerable to the real political challenges.

Luckily for Pierre Bourdieu, he did not live to see the final fulfillment of his prophecy. However, today's society is very well aware of what happens when the "triumph" of information kills the political consciousness of people. The sleep of political reason produces political monsters. The call to "get back to reality!" rings truer now than ever before.

Aleksandr Shchipkov, Moscow, 2015


1. A. Tsvetkov. Destroy After Reading / A. Tsvetkov. St. Petersburg: Amphora, 2009. 190 p.

2. Samuel P. Huntington. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order; 1996.

3. . Ashkerov. Psaki as a Diagnosis [Electronic Resource]. URL: (date: 12.08.2014).

4. I.P. Susov. Linguistic Pragmatics. [Electronic Resource]. URL: (date: 12.08.2014).