Mobilising direct political action: Sorel, myths and counter-myths

Mobilising direct political action: Sorel, myths and counter-myths

Sorel, myths and counter-myths

Schmitt suggests that contestation between myth-driven irrationalist movements can itself be conducted through the deliberate deployment of strategic counter-myths: ‘a matter of the direct intuitive contradiction of mythic images’. For instance, Mussolini’s fascism fought socialist myths with its own counter-mythic image of the revolutionary Marxist as a mere servant of a fearsome and distinctly Asiatic ‘Mongolian barbarian’ (Schmitt 2005b: 61–4, 75; Balakrishan 2000: 72–4). Schmitt also notes that reactionary counter-revolutionaries, such as Donoso-Cortes, sought to demonise the syndicalist Proudhon as: ‘an evil demon, a devil’, who responded in kind by likening his demoniser to a ‘fanatical Grand Inquisitor’ (Schmitt 2005b: 70).

The nearest Schmitt’s writings come to a concerted analysis of modern forms of political myth-making and polemical counter-myths designed to offset their impact is found in The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy (Schmitt 1988). Here, he develops elements of his own model of political myth partly through a sympathetic – if ultimately critical – discussion of George Sorel’s syndicalist theory. On Schmitt’s interpretation, Sorel draws creatively upon both the anarchist-syndicalist tradition of Proudhon, Bakunin and Bergson’s vitalist philosophy. In this way, he generates an interesting and illuminating theory of political myth that is free from the one-sided rationalism of Hegelian–Marxist dialectics. The latter is designed to inspire and mobilise ‘direct action’ against perceived national or class enemies, and indeed an entire economic system. Such political myths function to encourage participation in actions supposedly relevant to the big picture of great world historical dramas, and even metaphysical conflicts between primordial good and evil. These include decisive armed struggles, as well as particular formulas for allegedly attaining the status of a legendary figure whose epic way of life epitomises highly valued qualities as a symbolic and instructive role model.

For Schmitt, such myth-driven forms of collective action remain deliberately unmediated by that which liberal constitutionalism defines as the ‘normal channels’ of engagements with parliamentary representatives, and related efforts to win over that abstraction termed ‘public opinion’:

Schmitt then notes how Sorel’s theory of myth as integral to political activism recognises that only by reference to the possession of supportive political mythic beliefs can it be determined whether or not a particular class, group or nation both possesses, and has now adequately readied itself for, a decisive historical mission