In one of his rare direct comments on the politics of left and right in Seminar VII, Lacan has recourse to terms from the Elizabethan theatre.3 The left wing intellectual is characterized as a fool and the right wing intellectual a knave. The fool – for example from King Lear – was someone who might speak truth to power but without consequences. Not necessarily because the words of the left wing intellectual are those of a supposed simpleton, but because he or she does not want to deal with the consequences. For the fool, writes Jacques-Alain Miller, commenting on Lacan’s terms, ‘not dealing with the consequences is the only way of being consequent. The fool plays at being the angel. He stops at it’s not fair, then he proposes an end to injustice without considering the consistency of the set of choices.’4 It is easy to see how this characterization might fit Corbyn. In 40 years he has ‘never sought power or even desired it’;5 he has never sought a cabinet post, led a union, run a business, nor even chaired a parliamentary select committee. He seems to have avoided political responsibility at all costs, being content to vote against his own party hundreds of times, even while they were in government from 1997 to 2010. But now the anti-monarchist pacifist finds himself responsible for the defense of the Realm, supposing that he can act as a Prime Minister encumbered with a nuclear deterrent even as he tells everyone he could never contemplate pressing the nuclear ‘button’. Is it possible for this consistent anti-American anti-capitalist to retain the support of the nation’s traditional allies and manage its finances in the context of the global economy? Corbyn proposes a new type of leadership in which the party’s policies will emerge as the result of ‘a debate’, as if debates ever changed anyone’s mind about anything (they certainly haven’t Corbyn’s over the past 40 years). One suspects that these ‘debates’ will become a mechanism by which Corbyn’s policies will ‘melt away’, enabling him to maintain the purity of his oppositional position.6
In the meantime, the ‘knaves’ sharpen their knives and wait for their moment. The knave, suggests Lacan, plays the role of the ‘unmitigated scoundrel’ in the name of realism. While the knaves of the ‘Tory Press’ have not ceased to ‘mock the fool by showing him that in playing the angel he is playing the ass’,7 in so doing they are preparing the ground for the real asses to show themselves. No one knows if Corbyn will be the Labour leader come the next election in 2020 when he will be 71 years of age. The suspicion is that he is content to create the conditions for the left wing dominance of the party and a return to its roots as a support for the unions and a vehicle for state socialism. For their part, his opponents in the party need to find more positive ways to reaffirm the necessity of economic realism, a dismal prospect if ever there was one.
It was it seems overwhelmingly a younger generation that swept Corbyn to power, much to his surprise. This generation knows little about him except that the simplicity of his views represents ‘authenticity’. In itself this signals that the semblant of the market no longer offers the jouissance its so-called rationality once promised in its disclosure of all ideas, beliefs, institutions and laws as themselves semblants, mere idols of the market place. The words of a supposed simpleton are now opposed to the market as subject supposed to know. This suggests that if the wave beneath Corbyn is the start of a movement, it is not a revolutionary one. More modestly, perhaps, it is seeking a signifier that might arrest the dissolution of civil society by global finance that has indeed made the city unaffordable and unlivable.
1 Rosa Prince, ‘Accidental Rise to Power of the Left’s last man standing’, The Daily Telegraph 14.09.15: 6 2 Financial Times 14.08.15 3 Jacques Lacan, The Ethics of Psychoanalysis tr. Dennis Porter. London: Routledge, 182-4. 4 Jacques-Alain Miller, ‘Psychoanalysis, the city and communities’ in Natalie Wülfing, Philosophical Notebooks 24 (2012): 9-28, 15. 5 Prince, ibid. 6 . See Martin McQuillan, ‘Is Jeremy Corbyn serious about free higher education?’ Times Higher Education. 03.10.15. 7 Miller, ibid.