The Sunday News
Cetshwayo Zindabazezwe Mabhena
The stubborn truth is that Empires come and go. They might be durable but they are still perishable. The stubborn truth of the perishability of even the most durable empires is accompanied by another truth. That truth is that almost every Empire that has existed in the world has exhibited strong denialism if not total ignorance of its temporality and perishability; Empires deny their slow but sure death.
Perhaps part of being a true Empire is to believe in your eternity and survival in perpetuity. The strength of every Empire, much like that of any political regime, is positive belief in its permanent and uninterruptible existence. That strength eventually becomes a weakness; a strong kind of blindness and ignorance that makes the strongest and the biggest of Empires actually fragile and vulnerable.
True political and economic strength, in terms of Empires and other regimes of power, is awareness and knowledge of weaknesses and impermanence of existence. As I write, the Euro-American Empire is repeating the history of Empires by performing to spectacular extents the ignorance and denialism of power. There is no sign that the Western world, led by North America, is aware that the economic and political grounds of the world have shifted and changed. That the world is no longer the old world is totally lost to the champions of economic and political neoliberalism. Doomed is that Empire and or regime that does not understand that power and dominance are temporary.
When clowns are leaders
The decolonial philosopher, Boaventura de Sousa Santos, has looked at the present world and become tragically optimistic and critically pessimistic. Santos has been caught in a perplexity that has arisen from the observation that old truths about our world have been exposed as big lies. Chief among these big lies is that capitalism has prevailed against socialism and communism, and that China and Russia are failed states. That life is good, excellent and great in the West in general is a myth whose previous power has fallen down to the ground with a very loud noise as workers and other average people in Europe and America are living in misery.
The battle between utopia and dystopia in the world has never been more vivid in the present world. Some of the troubles, political and economic, in the West and outside where the West has had influence are troubles that are only symptoms of a declining and ending Empire.
The Euro-American Empire is coming to an end but it is ignorant and denialist of that end. What makes Empires and other regimes of power ignorant and denialist of their unfolding and natural end, Santos says, is that “Empires in their final stages of decline tend to choose cartoonish characters, such as Donald Trump in the U.S” for leaders. Such ‘cartoonish and clownish leaders cannot lead their societies to awareness of how the world works and what is happening in it.
The Coronavirus pandemic, Santos opines, has only served to make more dramatic and spectacular the symptoms of a decline and an end of an Empire led by denialist and ignorant leaders that, in their political performance, are cartoonish.
Cartoonish leadership even if it is leadership of an Empire remains clownish, tragic and doomed. Leadership styles of power that cannot be rationally defended tend to hide behind clowning and escape sober engagement and reasoned articulation of leadership.
The denialism and ignorance of a dying empire
Settler colonialism in Africa was the rule of Empire over African by use of colonial administrations and colonial governors. Of Algeria under French rule Frantz Fanon wrote about “This Dying Colonialism” in reference to an Empire that was ending but stubborn, ignorant and denialist.
In reference to the dying Euro-American Empire and its neoliberal regimes throughout the world Santos describes the ignorance, denialism and tragedy of it all.
The first form of denialism that Santos aptly notes is “Negationism.” Negationism of the Euro-American Empire holds the view that capitalism and neoliberalism are not in trouble at all. What are needed, they dream, are more policing, more security, soldiers and jails to control the populations. Armies of the dying Empire are re-trained to forget about foreign enemies and concentrate on citizens as the
“domestic enemy” that must be cowed and overcome. An Empire and or a regime are dying when they begin to see their own subjects as enemies upon which armies can be set.
What dying Empires and regimes fail to see and understand is what Santos calls gattopardism. Gattopardism is a philosophy of Guiseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa the novelist who argued that: “change is necessary if things are to remain the same.” This means that if Empires and regimes want to survive they must understand the importance of reforms and changes. If they do not bend to reform themselves and their systems they eventually break with a huge crack and fall with a monumental thud. Clever and survivalist Empires and regimes are reformists that make changes to accommodate new political and social realities.
Denialist Empires and regimes are like the Baobab. The Baobab stands strong and firm under the heavy storm and loses its branches and leaves, and finally dies. Reformist regimes and Empires are like the clever reeds. The reeds, imihlanga, quickly bend and submit when the wind blows and in that way they survive to see the sun tomorrow and tell stories of yesterday’s storm.
So in fundamental political terms it is the reed that is the strong tree and not the Baobab which is so huge but is actually like grass in its vulnerability. The Western; that is the Euro-American Empire; and its regimes the world over are acting all Baobab in a rather stormy and very windy world of today. A baobab kind of stubbornness that is false strength is at large.
Decolonial transitionism is here at last
The transitionism that Santos projects is decolonial revolution and insurrection at a world scale. It is a transition from slavery, settler and native colonialism that will be led by the underdogs of the world.
Transitionism is an overturning of things from dystopia to utopia, and utopia by its very definition is not a destination but a destiny, it defines the perpetually unfinished business of liberation from all forms of conquest, domination, discrimination and death. I agree with Santos, and in full so, that the civilisational and modernity model of the world led by the Euro-American Empire has come to an end. No amount of stubborn denialism and Negationism can stop the decolonial winds of change that are blowing through the most dense forests of the planet, that are changing both nature and human beings.
China, which was an Empire 200 years ago, and has become the biggest economy of the world, understands this better. A new world characterised by a new normal social and political order is emerging and the underdogs will claim it and stamp their signature on it. The old world of big strong Empires led by strong men and tough securocrats is collapsing under its own confusions and contradictions, and its own weight and baggage.
For Empire and its tyrannical neoliberal and corrupt outposts in the planet I think and believe with Santos that Dante was right when he said: “(che saetta previse viene piu lenta) foreseen, an arrow comes more slowly.” Empire does not see the coming arrow and so the arrow is coming much faster to pierce the very heart of Empire and its regimes.
Old truths and tired ideologies are no longer going to hold that tight. Empires and their regimes, besides being dethroned, they are good at eating themselves up especially because of their cartoonish leaders.
The Trump in the US are only a part of the symptom of a disease of decline and death. Something is dying inside Empire.
What used to be a rock of all ages of Empire is now melting under the heat of decolonial transitionism at a world scale.
Cetshwayo Zindabazezwe Mabhena writes from the Durban University of Technology in KwaZulu Natal: [email protected]