We remember the first time we encountered the argument that the simplicity of PowerPoint presentations actually facilitated the US decision to enter into Iraq.[1] This thesis runs something like the strategy employed by third-graders when turning in their first report for school: make sure it has a really nice cover and binding. If it looks good, it likely is good. Presenting such themes as “shock and awe,” “surgical precision,” and “minor resistance,” there seemed to be no need to consider any complications. After all, in the slides it seemed so simple, so clear, so common sense. We chuckled when we read the argument, because while it is obviously far-fetched, it also seems to possess some kernel of truth—it’s true that we were told how easy the offensive was going to be, how we could accomplish the plan with little to no collateral damage. Our guess is that if any of us would have known how difficult, complex, and messy these wars were to be, we likely would have chosen an alternative direction. So there does seem to be something to the notion that a false sense of simplicity can lead us into making decisions we wouldn’t normally make.

In 1961, Adolf Eichmann, a Nazi officer who was designated by Reinhard Heydrich to orchestrate and oversee the mass deportation of Jews to ghettos and death camps during World War II, was captured in South America and extradited to Israel. For his role in the mass slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, disabled persons, and other ethnic and political minority groups, Eichmann faced charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Hannah Arendt famously covered the trial for the New Yorker, providing us with her interpretation of both the events and the people involved.[2] The Eichmann one finds in her account, however, is not the monster one would anticipate. Arendt’s Eichmann is not an evil genius. He lacks the magnetism or ingenuity of a Hollywood villain, and he seems unable to offer more than simple slogans and quips to justify his actions. He’s a bit boring, a bit mundane and simple. Arendt notes,

. . . the same stock phrases and self-invented clichés (when he did succeed in constructing a sentence of his own, he repeated it until it became a cliché) each time he referred to an incident or event of importance to him. Whether writing his memoirs in Argentina or in Jerusalem, whether speaking to the police examiner or to the court, what he said was always the same, expressed in the same words. The longer one listened to him, the more obvious it became that his inability to speak was closely connected to his inability to think, namely, to think from the standpoint of somebody else. No communication was possible with him, not because he lied but because he was surrounded by the most reliable of all safeguards against the words and the presence of others, and hence against reality as such.[3]

These stock phrases and clichés functioned for the dull Eichmann as a means of navigating the actions required by his job. Any contradiction or crisis of thought arising from his internal sense of morality and his conduct was resolved by recourse to a slogan or catch phrase that would once again inspire confidence.

In other words, Arendt shows us that these clichés functioned for Eichmann as an impassioned means of surmounting what would have otherwise been profound and deep contradictions in his thinking and actions. These phrases operated in the stead of critical thought, conversation, patience, and spiritual struggle and thus allowed him to move on with his work. In fact, Eichmann “had at his disposal a different elating cliché for each period of his life and each of his activities.”[4] Surmounting the complexities and inconsistencies he encountered in following the Nazi party line merely meant discovering the will to continue on, and this, it seemed, only depended upon finding the right cliché. Repeated often enough and with enough passion, the phrase itself resolved the contradiction for Eichmann, whose elation in using such phrases only betrayed his dependence upon them for maintaining a grasp on his distorted sense of reality. In this way, Eichmann was able to esteem himself the friend and benefactor of Jews even as he was orchestrating their mass deportation and arranging for them to be herded into death camps.

Although Eichmann’s trial was more an exercise of judicial theater than anything else, Arendt’s analysis of him seems pertinent to our contemporary political context. The current spectacle that passes for political engagement, we think, most vividly appears in the chorus of clichés and stock phrases that have become the running drivel of our politicians. More theater than argument, more competing brand advertisement than real disagreement, the political debates of our country have become a consumer product on par with the Super Bowl or American Idol. In a culture that thrives on the production of packaged commodities to make our lives simpler, political engagement (having solutions to the problems society faces as opposed to arguments about the types of lives we want to live) has become a catalog of talking points and catchy slogans that merely provide an illusion of having a true understanding of things.[5] To this extent, these political catch phrases function, much as they did for Eichmann, as a means of moving beyond complications and deep issues without really engaging them.

Our point here is not to equate our current political speak with the evils of Nazism but simply to point to the role that cliché played in facilitating the participation of an ordinary and simple person in forms of social evil much greater and more disastrous than anything seen before. To be human is to be political, and to be political is to find ourselves wrestling at times with contradiction. The fact that people will disagree about how to solve the problems we now face is not the problem. What we think is most problematic about the current state of political discourse is the degree to which both sides are increasingly dependent upon recycling clichés and stock phrases (under the auspices of talking points) in order to appear as if they have real answers to the problems of political life.[6] The absurdity of such posturing is obvious. The contradictions of modern life cannot be resolved simply by the party lines and ideological agendas being pushed by these elites and their (oftentimes oblivious) cheerleaders. While real lives hang in the balance, a politics of the spectacle continues to ignore and even exploit the tide of discontentment collecting on the shores of our sense of shared life.

One thing that is clear from this current style of political discourse is that it has increasingly fostered polarization and impasse, two words that perhaps characterize our current political debates better than anything else. What some commentators have described as a conflict of entrenched ideologies, or culture wars,[7] however, appears to be a less than perspicacious explanation of the real struggle that is actually going on, for below the conflict over morality, family, and education that so energizes and grips proponents of both conservative and liberal ideologies, a more comprehensive sea change is occurring. This shift is a reconfiguration of the state itself, one that is no doubt giving rise to the anxieties that provoke the conflicting ideologies, but one that neither of these ideologies has yet acknowledged. A more profound and disturbing change is taking place, one that clichés and stock phrases cannot resolve no matter how catchy or clever.

The situation we face is much more complicated than our public figures want to acknowledge. Indeed, we are currently experiencing a transformation of our political institutions and the shape of government, a transformation most of us sense but are trained to pay little or no attention to. Out of the nation-state that dominated the past century, a new form of the state is emerging: the market-state. As scholars as diverse as Philip Bobbit and Bob Jessop have argued, the nation-state is facing a crisis of legitimacy.[8] While the nation-state form originally emerged as a way to provide citizens with a military strong enough to ensure their security, a means of establishing compromise and agreement among a vast constituency, an organized juridical form and tradition, and a method of managing the economic growth of the society so as to guarantee the improvement of everyone’s standard of living, it can no longer succeed in fulfilling these functions. As Bobbit states,

These tasks were the nation-state’s raison d’etre. Yet today, market regulation by the State has become unpopular, many citizens have been effectively marginalized in the political life of their societies, and private business organizations have taken the initiative regarding international development. It is they who determine whether the economic policies of a state merit confidence and credit, without which no state can develop. At the same time, there are new security demands on the State that require ever greater executive authority, secrecy, and revenue.[9]

That is to say, the nation-state can no longer ensure for its citizens the rights and goods it was created to provide. In failing to provide its citizens the certainty of security and protection, to restrict international intrusion, to control its own economy, to regulate the proliferation of images and ideas, and to shield its people from ecological hazards or the threat of epidemics, the nation-state cannot perform the tasks that give it its form, resulting in its own disintegration.[10] What is essential to see here is that the nation-state is no longer the functional form of the state and, to the extent that our policy makers, citizens, and government officials act as if it were, it cannot respond adequately to the broader social demands being made upon it. Indeed, it is being eclipsed by a new constitutional arrangement, one wherein the economy plays a much larger role.

For both sides of the partisan political spectrum, this change in the state’s makeup is creating deep problems. On the left, liberal Democrats are trapped within the contradiction of inhabiting the economic and geopolitical realities of the market-state while trying to legislate from the nation-state mentality by attempting to implement welfare-state policies. This is shown by the Democrats’ persistent belief that an all-out, free market capitalism can still include strong state resources to provide essential social safety nets. The reality is, however, that the very constitution of the market-state conflicts with the provisions of these safety nets, and as a result, it will increasingly collide with them, a clash that can be only temporarily resolved by increasing debt exponentially or making promises that are impossible to fulfill. The contradictions of this perspective were vividly played out in the Democrats’ failed attempt to overhaul health care even at a time when they held a supermajority. Democrats are stuck perpetuating the inefficiencies and failures intrinsic to an increasingly bloated bureaucracy, hopelessly convinced that the nation-state form of government will be able to quell the fracturing effects of a more and more privatized and individualized citizenry under the influence of the market. Thus, their plans are indelibly infused with impotence and failure due to the fact that they both encourage the unfettered economics of the market-state while, at the same time, attempting to offer some consolation to the market’s biggest and most persistent losers.

If this were the worst of the current ideologies and programs, things would be bad enough, for we’d be left circling our tails in a never-ending liberal pursuit of complete economic freedom and social responsibility. Yet such a stance has become increasingly innocuous against the Right’s move toward a total distrust of the state’s role in civic life. If liberal Democrats, confused as they are, are at least dragging their feet into the halls of anarcho-capitalism, then the Right seems set on staying the course in a full-out sprint into this brave new world. For them, an uninhibited free market, American exceptionalism, individualism, shallow civil religion, and a thin, predominantly negative view of freedom have coalesced into a blind faith that private ownership and capital innovation will itself, miraculously, solve the problems. To maintain their devotion to this perspective, the Right’s recourse to cliché provides the motivation and energy that keep it moving forward and imbue it with an enduring, if ersatz, legitimacy.

The most recent economic crisis only makes these trends glaringly obvious. This crisis is one that is beyond the government’s ability to solve, and any tactic it might take will only distort or tilt the crisis in one direction because the current form of the state, as we have shown, has been completely restructured by the global market. Hence, government programs can no longer make the necessary adjustments to reestablish stability when an economic bubble bursts or when other nations refuse to purchase our debt, making it increasingly difficult for us to raise the debt ceiling. If, as the Marxist thinker David Harvey states, “crises . . . are the irrational rationalizers of an irrational system” and if “there may be no effective long-term capitalist solutions (apart from reversion to fictitious capital manipulations) to this crisis of capitalism” because “at some point quantitative changes lead to qualitative shifts,” then we may very well be reaching the moment when there are only irrational, and at best temporary, state solutions to the very real problems we face.[11] Refusing to pursue strategies or resolutions that give the faintest hint of “putting free enterprise on trial,”[12] the political leaders of the Right continue to lead us directly back into the very problems and mechanisms that generated the social devastation of this depression. Thus, instead of taking a serious look at the crisis and engaging in real discussion about the problems we face, our political and economic elites return to the same talking points and slogans which give the gloss of solutions even as they solidify our belief that any manipulations of the market, or any state programs, will be felt as an undesired intrusion. It’s ultimately a fail-safe tactic because through cliché and slogan they can tout the ability of the free market to resolve any problems, glossing over the fact that a completely free market is already an irrational and impossible ideal, and then point to some interference or government program that disrupted the productive flow of the market when the market inevitably fails.[13]

In this regard, perhaps no other group has employed cliché to a greater effect than the Tea Party. However, rather than dismissing the Tea Party movement as merely a misguided populist performance of right-wing ideology, we believe that underneath all of the banal nostalgia and ideological banter there is a real backlash against the alienating social realities that have accompanied the recent change in the state’s makeup. Its charlatan media personalities and billionaire advocates notwithstanding,[14] the average Tea Partier’s intuition of the emerging market-state stems from a perceived loss of authentic American cultural unity—that is, the white, Protestant, and middle-class identity perfected during the post-war “golden years” of late industrial capitalism.[15] Feeling the social degradation of a consumer subjectivity that has reduced the idea of a shared public life down to a shallow and culturally indifferent economic pragmatism, the Tea Party is more aware than many would like to admit of the social injustices and alienation of the emerging market-state. And it is even more attuned to the government’s inability to provide the essential social goods of life when it makes recourse to the social welfare programs of the nation-state. The Tea Party knows that the average American has been disenfranchised by a state that has become the handmaiden of Wall Street rather than the insurer of public goods; it knows that an unregulated free market has meant that the state has little ability to do anything about Joe-factory-worker’s 401(k) being gambled away by stockbrokers and hedge-fund managers; it knows that the commodification of all social relationships by market forces has meant the collapse of any sense of a shared public good. Even if its members are unable to articulate these realities, they certainly feel them and intuit correctly that the government can no longer perform the tasks of the nation-state.

Yet herein lies the great contradiction of the Tea Party and its inability to penetrate the complexities of the current situation: while it vociferously defends the market-state’s most general and clichéd aspects as the essential conditions of freedom—unregulated market, small government, a meritocratic competitive workfare, et cetera—it articulates the need to restore favorable social and economic conditions to its constituency by running further into the very alienation that the free market has created in the first place. Instead of recognizing the emerging market-state and its drive toward total social alienation, cliché provides the Tea Party with the means to avoid having to admit the massive contradictions inherent in its politics. Rather than assessing the deeper structural realities that are fueling the emergence of the market-state, the Tea Party has instead conjured a substitutionary image on which to unleash their frustration: liberal Democrats’ paternalistic and atavistic insistence that the government should be telling citizens how to think about the common good through programs of social welfare. In this way, the absolute vilification and dismissal of liberal Democrats and all forms of big government is rooted not necessarily in ideological opposition (although this is certainly a major part of it) but in dissatisfaction with the failure and inability of the social programs of the welfare-state to create and mediate a common good. In their perception of Democrats—and not the inherent, and therefore more difficult to perceive, aspects of the emerging market-state—as attempting to stifle the transcendental providence of the market’s ability to provide utopian conditions for personal liberty, the Tea Party’s emphasis on the clichés of freedom, liberty, and bourgeois morality can be viewed as a sort of rhetorical defense mechanism against the dehumanizing effect of both the market-state’s actual indifference toward cultural unity (unrecognized but felt) and the political paternalism of the Democratic party (recognized and exploited). In this way, the Tea Party can avoid the hard and honest work of assessing the more savage side of free market capitalism’s transformation of the state, casting all cares upon the market.

As we have already hinted, the Tea Party speaks to an underlying truth of our contemporary political situation. By saying this, we mean to recognize that the Tea Party language of “less government” only makes sense within what Alasdair MacIntyre has called a “predominantly Weberian” society, wherein collective life is organized around and through a central bureaucratic apparatus.[16] In order to flesh this out, we will examine why these people feel, as many of us do, that a government “for, of, by the people” has come to be felt as an external intrusion on our lives. We need to recognize why bureaucratic management has replaced a unified sense of the good.

We can only begin to understand this if we consider the way in which our modern societies are dominated by economic relations. That is to say, we need to understand what it means for political economy to have largely replaced politics in our lives. To the extent that individuality reigns within modern societies like that of America, that is to say, to the extent that the basis of a political economy is grounded in each individual’s pursuit of her own self-interest, the unifying principle of that society can no longer be some sense of a common good. Instead, where the emphasis on self-interest displaces an emphasis on the common good, this society will require the construction of a bureaucracy to structure the fabric of common life in order to assuage the forces of dissolution. And this bureaucracy will need to grow in direct proportion to the increasing sense of alienation created by the diffusive momentum of self-interest. Thus, people within this society will come to experience their interaction with this mediating bureaucracy as more and more an experience of external coercion, outside interference, and annoyance. They will come to see it as an intrusion upon their own sense of the good, leading them to resent it and to seek to limit it further. Yet this interest in reducing the bureaucracy of government is based in a deep contradiction, for to limit or restrict governmental intervention is to threaten the very fabric of social life. That is, to attack the bureaucracy is to attack what remains of the unifying threads of our communal life within a political economy. Hence, although the bureaucracy is perceived to be the ever-encroaching arm of external rule, it is at the same time the very internal fabric of our life together and, as it wears thin, more and more folks are left to brave the turbulent seas of the unfettered market alone, further alienating them from one another.

Therefore, what the Tea Party advocates make evident, even in their willingness to live with this contradiction, is the degree to which the social ligaments of our lives have been stretched to the breaking point, stretched to the point that in the name of patriotism people want to go at it on their own. This is the truth we must learn from the Tea Party: the bureaucratic nature of our communal life is reaching its limit; to the extent that economics has come to dominate our social relations, we no longer possess an ability to produce a coherent vision of the shared, good life, and so an American political bureaucracy of the common good strikes us as paternalism and intrusion, leaving us profoundly alienated.

Returning to Arendt’s depiction of cliché and evil in relation to Eichmann, we cannot help but think that the current poverty of real political discourse is symptomatic of an underlying depreciation of our communal life and that this depreciation is connected in a very real way to capitalism. As our lives have become increasingly commodified, like every other commodity under capitalism, they have grown cheaper and cheaper and we experience this diminishment of our lives in our language and discourse. And thus, we can begin to see how a capitalism that has escaped its container truly starts to enact an evil upon our social lives.[17] Because it is essentially a deprivation of reality, as the theologian Herbert McCabe reminds us, “evil has meaning only at a fairly superficial level,” and hence, the banal and clichéd talk that accompanies this unchallenged embrace of capital cooperates with it and “diminishes life.”[18] Trusting the superficiality of our clichés and refusing to engage in robust arguments about how to move forward, the paucity of our dialogue further advances the depreciation of our lives. This impoverishment is most manifest in our inability to truly listen to other voices, to entertain and discuss any alternative that questions the good of market growth or profit. The superficiality of sloganizing and pat answers belies the underlying fear that is intrinsic to evil, the fear of making oneself vulnerable to others, of really being able to question one’s way of life. Acting in this fear, then, the tendency, particularly in American political debates, is to aim for domination instead of communication, in part because communication “disturbs our present world, lays it open to influence from others, which may involve revolutionary change.”[19] Real communication around the current economic crisis and real political discourse that could lead us off this banal road to perdition and into a deeper level of human meaning would, we think, involve allowing us to hear from a sustained and deep critique of capitalism.

In a fractured world where it often seems impossible to know how to connect all the elements and pieces of our lives, where the tasks of our individual professions seem detached from any larger story of what is going on, the temptation is always to rely on simple clichés and slogans that appear to bring it all together in simple solutions. As the theologians David Burrell and Stanley Hauerwas have noted, this is because “our endemic need for order—the demand we experience to make a story of our lives—also presses us to forge a unity before we have discovered one adequate to our situation.” As a result, we are constantly prone to self-deception[20] and to living demonic, because untruthful, forms of life. To this extent, we believe that a church working to understand itself within the narrative of Christ has even more reason to listen to a thorough critique of capital. Because it is in Christ and in the believing community that we know what is going on in the world, we ought to have the freedom to step back and interrogate the power the market has gained over our lives. We ought to have the freedom to name the deception inherent in all stock phrases about “common sense,” “Give me liberty not debt,” “Obama-care,” “It’s the spending stupid!” or even “winning the future.” Based on such discernment, we will see that these slogans signify a world that has no future because it has been frozen within the order and ideology of a capitalism that promotes itself as an unmovable and eternal truth.

Contrary to the illusion of such slogans, Christ’s life cannot be contained within the order of capitalism; his life disrupts all claims of mastery and opens up the future to new and unforeseen possibilities of living in the world. Christ’s life, however, does not provide merely another slogan, as if it only represents another cliché of political engagement. Rather, Christ’s life is that mode of being human in which the world is always received as a gift, the mode of being human which is utterly free because it abides in obedience to God and therefore cannot be handled or mastered through predetermined categories of human action. And to resist the order of futureless consumption and unlimited production and accumulation and to work toward a genuine future of shared good, we must participate in Christ’s life. Only if we are ready and willing to give ourselves over to this life might we find a way forward that is more creative than the market and more unifying than the addition of yet another organ to the bureaucracy.

In conclusion, if we are right about the fact that a poverty of discourse and language is one indication of a movement toward the demonic, as was certainly the case with Eichmann, then we think that we as Christians ought to pursue a complexification and deepening of the political discourse, not its naive simplification. If left to the current trajectory, the prospect of traveling a similar road to that of Eichmann’s remains an all too real possibility. No doubt, hints of such a path are already evident in the banal and vapid soundings of empty and ideological sloganeering that can easily channel anger and frustration into violence. For example, the simplistic rhetoric of deportation that accompanies anti-immigration vitriol, the clichéd reduction of the problem of unemployment and worker welfare to superficial beliefs in flexibility and market provision, and the illusion of certainty provided by war-cry slogans that stamp out the real casualties and costs of war are all indicators that the conditions of superficiality that accompany the banal road to perdition may already be in place. Disrupting the slogans and cliché with a more attentive and detailed discourse, taking the time to consider the complexities and complications of living in our world, may be critical to resisting evil’s diminishment of our lives. After all, if Christ has given us lives that are worth living, then the structures and goods of this life are probably worthy of the attention a thoughtful and rigorous argument would encourage.

[1] For a description of some of these arguments see Elisabeth Bumiller, “We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint,” New York Times, April 26, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/27/world/27powerpoint.html.

[2] See Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (New York, NY: Penguin Books, 1994).

[3] Ibid., 49.

[4] Ibid., 53.

[5] The Marxist theorist Guy Debord points out that in a society that has reduced all human relations into objects of capitalist production, all social reality is mediated by images, or representations of truth, and these images predetermine the needs and desires of society’s subjects by making subjectivity itself an image to be reproduced. Late capitalist society is now a spectacle in toto. When economic production is the end-all goal of society, the illusion of truth (the image) becomes truth itself because there now exists nothing beyond the spectacle’s perpetual reproduction of itself. In this way, for the politician in late capitalist society, the image of truth, or the cliché, is the limit to political speech: “The society which rests on modern industry is not accidentally or superficially spectacular, it is fundamentally spectaclist. In the spectacle, which is the image of the ruling economy, the goal is nothing, development everything. The spectacle aims at nothing other than itself.” See Debord, Society of the Spectacle (Detroit, MI: Black and Red, 1983), §17; also see §4 and §14.

[6] As Karl Barth states with regard to slogans, catchwords, or clichés, “The slogan is not designed to teach, instruct, or convince the hearer or reader. It aims to exert a drum-roll influence on people by awakening associations, engendering ideas and the associated feelings, and issuing marching orders. It does not initiate or permit any reflection or discussion, but it hammers home an axiom that must precede and underlie any possible reflection and discussion.” Hence, as he continues, “Slogans are simply vents with whose help ideologies surface and in the form of laud whistles call for general applause and acknowledgment.” See Barth, The Christian Life: Church Dogmatics IV.4. Lecture Fragments, trans. Geoffrey William Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1981), §78, 226–27, http://solomon.dkbl.alexanderstreet.com.proxy.lib.duke.edu/cgi-bin/asp/philo/dkbl/getobject.pl?c.823:1.barth.

[7] See James Davidson Hunter, Culture Wars: The Struggle to Control The Family, Art, Education, Law, and Politics in America (New York, NY: Basic Books, 1991).

[8] Philip Bobbit, Shield of Achilles: War, Peace, and the Course of History (New York, NY: Knopf, 2002), 17. Bobbit argues that due to innovations which brought an end to the long war, “The nation-state is dying, but this only means that, as in the past, a new form is being born. This new form, the market-state, will ultimately be defined by its response to the strategic threats that have made the nation-state no longer viable.” He later defines the market-state as “the emerging constitutional order that promises to maximize the opportunity of its people, tending to privatize many state activities and making representative government more responsive to the market” (912). Although we have chosen to use Bobbit’s term market-state, Jessop provides a more sophisticated description of this transition by describing the emerging form of the state as a “Schumpeterian workfare post-national regime” (SWPR). See Jessop, The Future of the Capitalist State (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2002), 247. As Jessop argues this new form of the state is “replacing the Keynesian welfare national state” (KWNS) (247). This new form is Schumpeterian to the extent that it attempts to promote innovation and flexibility in an overall open economy by intervening on the supply side to increase and strengthen competitiveness in given economic spaces (250). It is workfare in the sense that it submits social policy to the needs and desires of economic policy. Hence, while the “KWNS tried to extend the social rights of its citizens, the SWPR is more concerned to provide welfare services that benefit business and thereby demotes individual needs to second place” (251). Next, it is postnational in that it makes recourse to multilevel and multigovernance institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, European Union (EU), or World Trade Organization (WTO). And finally, it is regime-like to the degree that it relies on the “increased importance of non-state mechanisms in compensating for market failures and inadequacies in the delivery of state-sponsored economic and social policies,” resulting in a “hallowing out of national states” (254).

[9] Bobbit, Shield of Achilles, 208.

[10] Ibid., 228.

[11] Harvey, The Enigma of Capital: And the Crisis of Capitalism (London, UK: Profile Books, 2010), 215–17.

[12] Many readers will remember the retort Mitt Romney recently offered to those other candidates who jumped upon his comments regarding the fact that he liked being able to fire people who were providing him with services. In response, he challenged that they were committing this unpardonable sin: putting free enterprise on trial.

[13] Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, [1944] 2001), 3. In this volume, Polanyi directly challenges the ideological and historical utopianism implicit in the notion of a self-regulating, free market. Indeed, he shows the degree to which this utopianism so strained the social life of Europe that it helped to create the conditions that precipitated the rise of fascism, leading to the Second World War. A self-regulating and totally free market, he argues, is a fiction, for it has never existed and never will.

[14] With media figures such as Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity and financial moguls like the Koch brothers, a new form celebrity has emerged from the reverb of those feeling alienated by this regime. Yet, both as a testament to the idolatrous nature of this empire and to its ingenious ability to sell back to us our own frustration with it, this new celebrity capitalizes on the degrading effects of neoliberal policies not by pointing to its flaws and devastating effects on society, but instead by dusting off this ideology and asserting that these failures have resulted from our infidelity to the self-regulating free market.

[15] The identity politics of the Tea Party’s predominantly white and Protestant makeup should be framed in what Etienne Balibar calls “fictive ethnicity,” the imaginary and constructed ethnic base that legitimates the idea of a nation’s historic and “natural” preexisting unity. Balibar writes, “No nation possesses an ethnic base naturally, but as social formations are nationalized, the populations included within them, divided up among them or dominated by them are ethnicized—that is, represented in the past or in the future as if they formed a natural community, possessing of itself an identity of origins, culture and interests which transcends individuals and social conditions” (Balibar, “The Nation Form: History and Ideology” in Race, Nation, Class: Ambiguous Identities, by Balibar and Immanuel Wallerstein [New York, NY: Verso, 1991)] 96). The racism inherent in the rhetoric and policy proposals of the Tea Party might best be understood from within Balibar’s theories of the nation form and fictive ethnicity.

[16] MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, 2nd ed. (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984), 109. Readers who are familiar with this important text will recognize that MacIntyre makes this statement at the beginning of the central chapter in the book. Sans a collective view of the common good and a positive vision of freedom, MacIntyre asserts there are only two possible ways forward for a society trapped within the “iron cage” of management and bureaucracy that has filled the void left by the absence of these unifying goods: Nietzsche or Aristotle.

[17] Commenting on the point at which capitalism comes to act as an oppressive power over our lives, political scientist Wendy Brown notes, “When capital radically escapes both its container and its limits in the nation-state, when it becomes a genuinely global power, it acquires many of the specifically religious trappings of sovereignty—absolute, enduring, supreme, decisive about life and death, beyond human control, and above all beyond accountability to law or morality” (see “The Sacred, the Secular, and the Profane: Charles Taylor and Karl Marx,” in Varieties of Secularism in a Secular Age, ed. Michael Warner, Jonathan Van Antwerpen, and Craig Calhoun [Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010], 103). Interestingly enough, Brown goes on to discuss the seemingly non-exteriority to capital in our day, lamenting the totalizing breadth of its reach and ultimately pointing to the necessity of fringe movements that oppose the all-encompassing reign of capital (104).

[18] McCabe, Law, Love and Language (New York, NY: Continuum, [1968] 2003), 100–101.

[19] Ibid., 101.

[20] Burrell and Hauerwas, “Self-Deception and Autobiography: Reflections on Speer’s Inside the Third Reich (1974),” in The Hauerwas Reader, ed. John Berkman and Michael Cartwright (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001), 217.