Asked about her commitment to running for and again leading the United States House of Representatives as Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi replied “It’s an urgency I can’t resist.”[1]

This use of the relatively uncommon (at least, in the United States) word urgency of course evokes the upcoming Congress of the New Lacanian School that has that precise title.

This matter of urgency speaks to the increased place of hate and fear in American politics over the past two years, generally ascribed to the politics of Donald Trump (though of course the presence of similar discourse in Europe and elsewhere speak to the fact that this is a global phenomenon—we are more globally connected than ever, in the flows of capital and labor and even ideology as well, in spite of efforts to stem that flow).  But, of course, that said, the hatred is no less evident on the side of many on the left, who hate Trump and Republicans with no less passion.  Those who grieve the loss of civil discourse in American politics—which indeed was somewhat characteristic at times of Washington, DC, during the period of post-War stability through, say, the late 1960’s or the 1980’s, depending on where one makes the historical break point—are quick to forget the conflict and hatred and fear that characterized part of the 1950’s and the activities of Joe McCarthy and which indeed has been an intermittent feature of American politics for a long time, as documented most forcefully by Richard Hofstadter, apropos the Goldwater campaign, in his 1964 essay “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.”[2]  Indeed, our Congress was quite wild exactly a century before the 1950’s in the 1850’s with Representatives showing up in chambers armed with guns and knives, all part of the tensions and conflict associated with slavery.[3]

As Claudia Iddan referenced in her very sharp text on the judiciary and Israel,[4] the formation of a group—in her case, talking about a nation, but this could apply as well to a political party—is noted by Jacques Lacan in Seminar 17 to be a function of segregation, an act of segregation based upon hatred of the other, those outside of the group (see too here the remarkable conclusion of Lacan’s early text on “Logical Time and the Assertion of Anticipated Certainty” for an earlier formulation of this concept, one that I found helpful in an analysis of the 2016 US presidential election[5]).

One conclusion that we might draw from Lacan’s work on groups is, of course, that groups are inherently Imaginary constructs and thus, as such, are logically based on some form of meconnaissance, of mis-recognition.  I suspect that for some of the left and left political groups, it is a matter of valence: the idealism and hope of various left or progressive agendas hiding some hatred or negative emotion.  We see this most succinctly in a fictional episode of The West Wing: the conservative character Ainsley Hayes working in the otherwise progressive White House puts it best, in an exchange with her liberal co-worker Sam Seaborn in a conversation about gun control:

Sam Seaborn: “It’s not about personal freedom, and it certainly has nothing to do with public safety. It’s just that some people like guns.”

Ainsely Hayes: “Yes, they do. But you know what’s more insidious than that? Your gun control position doesn’t have anything to do with public safety, and it’s certainly not about personal freedom. It’s about you don’t like people who do like guns. You don’t like the people. Think about that, the next time you make a joke about the South.”[6]

Another rather striking example of this position on the left is the response of some progressives to the act taken in 1965 by Bob Dylan.  At the time, Dylan was at the top of the progressive, folk music scene in the United States (and, indeed, many folk musicians were quite progressive in their politics and their political advocacy: e.g., Pete Seeger was a member of the Communist Party).  As a very young man in the early 1960’s, Dylan erupted on the scene and was seen as the one to carry the torch of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger to a new generation.  Well, Bob Dylan did not want that semblant, he wanted to do what he wanted to do musically and was not interested in this identification.  So, wanting to move in a different direction, he “went electric” in 1965, adding the blues guitar player Mike Bloomfield and a few others as a backup band.  The global reaction on the part of the left folk scene was striking—hatred, vitriol, accusations that Dylan was Judas—and not just in the United States, but also in his English tours of that period (as documented so well in Martin Scorsese’s documentary, No Direction Home).

So, what then in politics?  In her article, Iddan describes one approach that is not founded on hatred, apropos the judiciary, namely that one must protect human rights for everyone, regardless of affiliation or identification.  This universalism is perhaps one path by which one might transcend groups and the imaginary identifications that come with it.  (One might even read this universalism in Lacan’s work itself, in Television, in his musings on the role of the saint, where he states “The more saints, the more laughter; that’s my principle, to wit, the way out of capitalist discourse—which will not constitute progress, if it happens only for some.”[7])

I propose that another path would be to subvert the semblants of the group, subversion being, according to Jacques-Alain Miller (in his 2005 radio interviews on France Culture, “Histoires de Psychanalyse”[8]), a properly Lacanian approach to politics.  I believe one small example of this is Return Day, celebrated in Georgetown, Delaware.[9]  For the past two centuries, on this day, a few days after the election, candidates of both parties drive through town in horse-drawn carriages, then the election results are announced, and then they literally “bury the hatchet,” an act I see as inherently subversive of the party identifications, without necessarily dissolving them.

 


[1] https://www.cnn.com/2018/11/08/politics/nancy-pelosi-house-speaker-cnntv/index.html

[2] Published in a book of the same name, but available in the original Harper’s essay at https://harpers.org/archive/1964/11/the-paranoid-style-in-american-politics/)

[3] See the work of Joanne Freeman, summarized in her recent New York Times opinion piece: “The Violence at the Heart of Our Politics,” September 8, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/07/opinion/sunday/violence-politics-congress.html

[4] “Are There Judges?” Lacanian Review Online 103, November 11, 2018, http://www.thelacanianreviews.com/are-there-judges/

[5] “You’re Not in the 1%, So Why Vote Like You Are?” Lacanian Review Online 57, December 4, 2016,

http://www.thelacanianreviews.com/youre-not-in-the-1-so-why-vote-like-you-are/

[6] https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0745637/quotes

[7] Jacques Lacan, Television, Norton, 1990, p. 16.

[8] Audio files of the lectures may be found at http://www.lacan.com/millerlecture.htm

[9] See Randall Chase, “Delaware politicians bury a hatchet in post-election ritual,” Washington Post, November 8, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/delaware-politicians-bury-a-hatchet-in-post-election-ritual/2018/11/08/34251ee0-e3c5-11e8-ba30-a7ded04d8fac_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.30be3fd50942