The Politics of the Apolitical

There is a certain kind of commentator that calls themselves “apolitical” while engaged in explicitly political projects. More often than not, the apolitical person will claim that they do not like politics, that they would prefer not to engage politically, but that circumstances have forced their hand and, because of a situation that is beyond their control, they must engage in politics in spite of themselves. They claim that a pressing issue commands them and, once this issue is resolved, they will go back to their apolitical lives and concern themselves with private matters or research that is in and of itself uninvolved in the world of politics. The tension between both the statements themselves and between the statements and actions of the person making them should be obvious. Such blatant contrariness within a single character is somewhat remarkable and calls for closer inspection.

The first thing that strikes me is the disavowal of choice. The apolitical person has not chosen to engage politically. They do so under duress. But this cannot be true.

First, the person who expresses their apolitical nature is almost never a person who is oppressed or marginalized in any way. Indeed, they are most typically among the most privileged members of society and relatively comfortable. They enjoy access to venues both public and private in which they can elaborate their apolitical politics and no one can be said to hold a gun to their heads. How can they say they are forced? Well, the force that guides them comes in the form of a calling. It is like being “called” to the priesthood, where in both cases the person is being called to express a profound and eternal Truth. In both cases the one called is embattled. They reluctantly step forward to answer the call and what they are called to do involves an enemy that must be met and vanquished. They answer this call, in part, because they feel it is their duty, but also so that, once the battle is won, they may return to their peaceful private concerns. Never mind that they have first judged this to be their calling. Even the one who hears the voice of God must judge for themselves that what they hear is God and not the Devil or their own conscience. It is not God, but History who speaks to the apolitical person, and they judge history to have gone astray. The call is a distress signal and they extend their hand in the darkness to return history to the path of light. Of course, history itself is not to blame. There is a way that things ought to go, after all. No, someone must have done this; there is some person or persons who must be responsible for this deviation from the path of Truth.

So, we can see that the apolitical person has developed a politics of resentment. They first resent their calling, because it takes them away from their desired life of leisure, but they must also face an enemy who is responsible and who they resent for the corruption of the world. The fact that the politics of the apolitical is rooted in a double-resentment will lead them inexorably to nihilism.

On the one hand, they arrive at nihilism because they are driven by resentment. Their politics is one of negation. Even their chosen moniker, “apolitical” is a negation of the political. Their entire orientation is to be against. Now, on the other hand, they claim to be “for” something. But this positive value is only asserted against the value of another. It is a counter value. It is no value chosen for itself, or chosen because the apolitical one wills it for its own sake. It always asserted in the face of the enemy as a counter balance to that which the apolitical one resents. And so, the apolitical person chooses the value that will best serve as a force to destroy that against which they have pitted themselves. They assume, wrongly, that afterward their principle will settle down into a peace-time tranquility, but once riled the principle exists only for polemic and withers without its enemies. Thus, the apolitical must always create new enemies.

The primary means of creating new enemies is through association with the primary target. There is always someone who will defend the targets of the apolitical person’s polemics, and they too are deemed guilty. Soon, no transgression is too small. The apolitical becomes an absolutist for their anti-principle. Nihilism is consummated – they live to destroy and must destroy to live. Without destruction, they have no reason to be.

The irony is, of course, that the apolitical one usually presents themselves as someone against destruction. They are a preserver. They preserve order, tradition, reason, freedom, something to which they cling. It is these others who are destroyers! And for that, they must be destroyed. But this is a farce. It never occurred to them that reason or tradition would need preserving until they observed that not everyone adheres to the same beliefs and modes of behavior as themselves. The difference must then be interpreted as a threat.

Indeed, most often we find that reason, tradition, the desired order, have been reversed engineered to stand against that which the apolitical one has rejected. When it is pointed out that these concepts themselves have a history, that there are whole disciplines devoted to their study, that their conception of, say, reason, is highly idiosyncratic and self-serving, they become apoplectic. This is why the academic disciplines usually singled out for derision by the apolitical set are the ones most intimately concerned not only with reason itself but with the application of reason in the critical analysis of culture, history, and, in short, all that stands in for “tradition” in the mind of the apolitical person. They are not interested in tradition as it has been historically practiced, developed, and criticized. They are interested only in a tradition that has been devised in light of the negative principle they have adopted a priori and that can therefore be marshaled against their enemies. And forget about the traditions of their enemies.

The enemy must always be a new arrival, without tradition, a force outside of their imagined histories. This is why immigrants appear at the natural enemy of the apolitical. They can easily be conceived as new arrivals and interlopers in an otherwise pure political situation. This conception is false, but it is an easy excuse for the battle that those apolitical ones claim is being foisted upon them. Such choices of adversaries prime apolitical people to become sometimes unwitting fellow travelers with truly reactionary forces. To be apolitical is not necessarily reactionary in itself, though it’s resentful nihilism shares certain family resemblances with intentionally reactionary politics, which do not pretend to apolity. The greatest danger of apolitical commentators is the credence and support they give to reactionaries with whom they imagine a happy solidarity.

Of course, the apolitical one is not the true ally of the reactionary. At least, not from the reactionary’s point of view. From the view of a fascist, the apolitical person is a very useful tool, a political rube. The apolitical person has wrongly convinced themselves that they can align with reactionaries on a single isolated issue. But in fact, no issue exists in isolation. Increasingly, the apoltical person will be called to defend their alliance. There is then the great temptation not to defend only the single issue, but the alliance itself, which will entail in part defending the reactionary. The fascist is then made respectable in the eyes of a general audience who may be sympathetic to apolitical confessions. This is a great benefit to the fascist, a damning error on the part of the apolitical one, and a terrible danger to anyone in the cross-hairs of reactionary policies. Fascists will take advantage of this situation, and ploy the apolitical rube with their most heinous ideas dressed in the most respectable clothes. We have seen how fascists rebrand themselves with a neat hair-cut and a polo shirt or suit. They will do the same with their ideas and the apolitical one will happily indulge any euphemism that seems to coincide with their imaged tradition, whatever object they’ve sworn themselves to protect. Fascism is thereby mainlined and more people are exposed to reactionary politics through the apolitical one’s endorsement, though the first contact is with a sanitized version of a toxic ideology. Once one accepts a part, the layers can begin to be peeled away.

The apolitical person is then drafted into a cause that they have truly not chosen. Because their original political move is to disavow their choice, they cease to be aware of the consequences they have in fact chosen. They have transformed themselves into a tool and a tool cannot decide how it will be used. Their nihilism allows them to be driven by an end determined in resentment, which aligns them with others who are driven by resentment differently motivated. Thus, while the apolitical one may not necessarily be a reactionary by choice, they readily become a reactionary wherever they allow the choice to be made for them. Since they envision themselves as the dispassionate respondent to a calling, the choice is easily made for them – they can hardly conceive of themselves has having made a political choice! They are, after all, apolitical.

What must be done is the most difficult task of showing the apolitical one that they are indeed political. This is a diagnosis which they will resist in sometimes dramatic fashion. But it is clear that, insofar as we live a life in public, we are all political. It is not a feature which determines our entire being, but it is a feature that cannot be avoided. This is a truism. But what can be done for a person unwilling to acknowledge such obvious truths? Patience is a virtue here. But patience will only get us so far. Where patience fails, there is only silence when they can be ignored. Where they align themselves with fascists, we must do what needs done with any tool the reactionary wields – we must break them.

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