What the liberal cannot bear to admit is the hatred beneath the skin of a society so unjust that the amount of collective violence buried in the people is perhaps incapable of being contained, and therefore if one wants a better world one does well to hold one’s breath, for a worse world is bound to come first, and the dilemma may well be this:
Given such hatred, it must either vent itself nihilistically or become turned into the cold murderous liquidations of the totalitarian state.
- Norman Mailer
The State & The Student
Zack Beauchamp, of Think Progress, recently wrote that liberals have a lot to gain from alliances with the Left. Radical demands will make these #PragProgs look exactly that - pragmatic. Provided, of course, that these radicals eschew political violence. Of course, political violence as such is not feared - or else there would be more than unease at the sight of violence done in their name - but rather responsive violence is feared. Beauchamp finds economic radicals useful because they can help in the liberal quest to tame capitalism. The state, however, and its monopoly on violence must be preserved.
This splitting of the economy from the state is done in bad faith, but is necessary in order to make claims about the irrationality of political violence. We just don’t know what made him snap is almost always a false statement. But, what made the violent actor snap is often the order that is being defended. To raise the specter of irrationality, potential political subjectivities must be preemptively effaced. It is why the notion of “apolitical” is bandied about in anything but an ironic sense. It is how we have come to classify what students do as something other than work - even if they spend 40 or more hours a week laboring in a legally and/or societally mandated (depending on their age) institution.
Because their work is not work, their grievances are recast as apolitical. It’s all just a dull droning noise emanating from the latest “me, me, me” generation. If their labor was recognized, there would be a significant failure in the logic of the student in contemporary capitalism: you must borrow enormous sums of money in order to pay the university and you must work there for free for years (and likely do the same in an internship). This will build your social capital, which you can in turn use to acquire a job and pay back that rapidly inflating sum of money. It is a contradiction inherent in our society that within these terms, individualism is praised if its of the rugged variety, but mocked if it might lead the young to reflect upon their conditions. What is feared is likely not vanity, but rather the realization that they are not alone.
Murder & Political Violence
One of the professors gives a long speech about the freedom capitalism affords people, while also stating that it makes the weak disappear. When a student asks if that means it is not only possible, but right to kill your rivals the professor is unable to give a satisfactory response since the answer is clearly yes. Omirbayev picks up Raskolnikov’s argument, but largely places it in another student’s mouth. When The Student decides to kill the shopkeeper, he is not murdering a rival. These men are at different stations in life and while we have seen the shopkeeper’s sins - refusing to let an old woman pay him later for some of her groceries - it is in no way unreasonable in our economic system. Try asking the cashier at Von’s if an IOU will get you a gallon of milk. What is important to note is that the shopkeeper has done nothing in particular to hurt the Student, except for his willful engagement as a seller of basic goods. He has rationalized the need for food into capitalistic demand. It is in this same system that education can be perverted and packaged as a necessary commodity.
What is the murder of the shopkeeper? Certainly, in American parlance, it’s something like the wanton lawlessness of today’s youth resulting in the death of that quasi-mythical figure: the small business owner. I cannot speak to the character’s particular significance in Kazakhstan’s variant of capitalism, but to the American viewer this engagement revolves around a few recognizable dichotomies - young/old, employed/unemployed, poor/middle class. In every instance, the word “rival” falls to the wayside, because there is a direct power imbalance. When The Student pulls the trigger, the shopkeeper is not his rival in society; he has already assumed his place, it is the student that is in a prolonged state of becoming worthy.
It is here that Raskolnikov’s idealization of “great men” is shifted. The Student does not merely desire to be a great man, but to have the capacity to act at all. This capacity is traditionally circumscribed once by the State in regards to its citizens and once in particular relation to the student. Action - violent and peaceful - is either removed from the public sphere or constricted by permits, policing and mockery. The student, in intellectual work, is not counted as an intellectual worker capable of producing anything, but only of practicing. Pulling the trigger is when he passes from the world of practice to the world of politically productive acts. Murder only initiates a crisis when the wrong person does it. When it’s done massively, it’s a matter of policy.
Killing the shopkeeper lets the student imitate the Great Men. Yet he resubmits himself to the State, accepting that he can in fact be judged guilty by the same apparatus that would at best only find itself to have erred. He produces politics, but cannot direct it. Herein is the condition of the student today: We - the young, the poor, the indebted - are all Raskolnikovs now.