One is therefore tempted to turn round Marx’s eleventh thesis. The first task today is precisely not to succumb to the temptation to act, to directly intervene and change things (which then inevitably ends in a cul-de-sac of debilitating impossibility: ”what can one do against global capital?”). Rather, the task is to question the hegemonic ideological coordinates, or, as Brecht put it in his Me Ti, ”Thought is something which precedes action and follows experience.” If, today, one follows a direct call to act, this act will not be performed in an empty space; it will be an act within the hegemonic ideological coordinates.
Those who ”really want to do something to help people” get involved in (undoubtedly honorable) exploits like Medecins Sans Frontieres, Greenpeace, and feminist and antiracist campaigns, which are all not only tolerated but even supported by the media; even if they seemingly enter economic territory (say, by denouncing and boycotting companies that do not respect ecological conditions or that use child labor). They are tolerated and supported so long as they do not get close to a certain limit. Let us take two predominant topics of today’s radical American academia: postcolonial and queer (gay) studies. The problem of postcolonialism is undoubtedly crucial; however, ”postcolonial studies” tend to translate it into the multiculturalist problematic of the colonized minorities’ ”right to narrate” their victimizing experience of the power mechanisms that repress ”otherness” so that, at the end of the day, we learn the root of postcolonial exploitation is our intolerance toward the Other, and, furthermore, that this intolerance toward the ”Stranger in Ourselves”, in our inability to confront what we repressed in and of ourselves. The politico-economic struggle is thus imperceptibly transformed into a pseudo-psychoanalytic drama of the subject unable to confront its inner traumas. The true corruption of American academia is not primarily financial-it is not only that they are able to buy many European critical intellectuals (myself included, up to a point)-but conceptual: notions of ”European” critical theory are imperceptibly translated into the benign universe of cultural studies chic. With regard to this radical chic, the first gesture toward Third Way ideologists and practitioners should be that of praise: they at least play their game in a straight way, and are honest in their acceptance of the global capitalist coordinates, in contrast with pseudo-radical academic leftists who adopt toward the Third Way an attitude of utter disdain while their own radicality ultimately amounts to an empty gesture that obliges no one to anything determinate.