Three years ago in Vienna, the effects of a new, fresh discourse met us for the first time. Unprepared and up close. During the second Zadig Vienna Forum “Wir alle sind Exilanten“ (We are all exiles), organised by the Vienna Initiative, suddenly loud protests by some students of the University of Applied Arts Vienna aroused. With their loud accusations that the selection of speakers on the podium was racist, discriminatory and misogynistic, they tried to prevent the speakers from continuing. Probably hardly any of us had heard of the new signifier wokeness at this point, while attempts were just being made to take away our right to speak in public. Half a year later, the same student group disrupted a lecture by the feminist Alice Schwarzer. The accusation was that her positions were Islamophobic. The first major waves of a ban on speech, long established at American universities, had thus reached little Austria. In the meantime, three years later, this new morality admonishes us loudly and constantly, even the doors of our psychoanalytic practices can sometimes no longer stop it, for example when patients want to forbid their analysts which words they may use or not.

What is happening to us? Are we witnessing an Orwellian New Speech, but with the crucial difference that George Orwell’s novel 1984 had been directed against a fictitious, totalitarian regime? The new “speech police” is by no means “right-wing” in the way it sees itself; on the contrary, its representatives see themselves politically as decidedly “left-wing”.

However, to this day there is the foundation of a political ethic that distinguishes modern democracies from totalitarian regimes: This ethic is still based on Article 1 of universal human rights, according to which all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. Article 1 is a political-ethical axiom, it forms the formal protective wall against any attempt of segregation and exclusion. This was precisely the issue of the forum, because as analysts we know that the appropriation of the world is only grounded in its primitive distinction into “good” or “bad”, into “to swallow up” or “to spit it out”. Likewise, thanks to Freud, we know that hate is older than love.[1] For the nature of the human being is structurally “racist”.

Consequently, analytical discourse in its practice as a cure is constantly working towards “de-identification”, towards breaking down imaginary certainties. Éric Laurent, in his Guiding Principles for Every Psychoanalytic Act, has emphasised that the psychoanalytic session is precisely the place where the strongest identifications that fix the subject can be loosened, insofar as the psychoanalyst enables a radical re-examination of the foundations of identity.[2]  In this way, the social bond can be tied in a different way, no longer undertaking the cohesion of one’s own social community through the exclusion of others.

But as I mentioned above, the social bond of European-Western culture is currently suffering small cracks, which are no longer only  the result of agitations from the right wing parties. Rather, these cracks are promoted precisely by a community that identifies itself as a specific “left-wing” milieu. In Austria, it gathers primarily in the lecture halls of art universities.  For years now, their language games have been promoting a development that cannot be described as anything other than reactionary, because its essence is the renewed concentration and defence of something “special”. This „special“, however, has nothing in common with the singular to which a psychoanalytical ethic subscribes. A singular that Jacques Alain-Miller called “untenable”, which is why it seeks refuge precisely in the particular.[3]

Today, this “particular” is once again called “identity”. Academic discourse and its politics accentuate what is apparently one’s own by questioning an Other. This Other is not located in enemy territory, however; it is much more likely to be encountered in the neighbouring office, perhaps in the lecture hall, just one row ahead of me.

This Other, apparently so close to me, becomes an enemy as soon as I can recognise, for example, that it adorns itself in an immoral way with the signs of foreign cultures, insofar it appropriates them, by using ethnic signs as a fashion accessory, by choosing words that are not one’s own, by presuming to translate literature from foreign cultures without being able to call something of the “particular” of this cultural language area one’s own, and so on.

Wokeness is en vogue, and so meticulous attention is paid to cleansing the linguistic vocabulary of its impurities. While this new “purity” is demanded, there is a constant tightening of the boundaries within which culture may or may not express itself. Identity and authenticity become the yardstick of a supposedly fairer life, a better life, although only a few will eventually find something of this better on their plates in the evening.  An educated, well-off milieu gives birth to new versions of prohibition and ostracism with its identity morality, while its intention is to respect and protect the sensitive and vulnerable in people.

When, instead of a heated debate about the better argument, it decrees silence, when instead of questioning their work in a differentiated way it dis-invites artists to defend the “right moral sentiment”, it enters nolens volens politically dangerous terrain, for let us not forget: once morality enters our chambers, cruelty is already on the threshold.

Consequently, the protection of ethnicity must be sharply distinguished from its overvaluation, as we can see in the example of the accusation of “appropriation” by the cancel culture. But while protection, for example in the case of persecution, follows the logic of human rights, the emphasis on the particular works against it insofar as it contradicts the fundamental principle of equality. In this way, it constantly sets fire to the democratic framework. In the glow of this fire, it can no longer see, or no longer wants to see, that the recourse to the particular, the identical, are merely parts of a devastating fuse whose connection to the eugenic and the ethnic still exists.

[1] Freud, S., Instincts and their Vicissitudes, The Standard Edition Vol. XIV, London 1957, 139.


[3] Miller, J-A., The Unconscious and the Sinthome, in: Event/Horizon, London 2011, 45.