The Invisible Armada

Image by Juan Alberto Casado, all rights reserved

Contemporary democracy as a Potemkin village... (3/3)

By Alain Brossat

7 April 2022

In modern societies, the Potemkin village maintains strong affinities with the shop window. One could say that it is the equivalent, in the political – or more exactly governmental – order of what the shop window is in that of commerce or, more precisely, of the promotion of merchandise. It will be noted that a society in which merchandise is king is hard to imagine without shop windows and without everything associated with it. The showcase is, par excellence, the device thanks to which the goods are displayed and showcased. It has become over time, with the advertising on which it is arranged, the means by which the merchandise is made visible and promoted; it produces effects, it becomes, in societies placed under the sign of commodity fetishism, a metaphor – shop window or shop window effects, this is not what is lacking in our societies, in the same way as in the sphere of governmentality the Potemkin village effects are the best shared thing. The showcase is what presents the merchandise in its best and most attractive light – light and lighting are primary issues there.

In the window, the goods are not only made visible but staged in conditions intended to arouse the desire to buy, consumption. Its interactions with advertising are innumerable – the passer-by recognizes the product displayed as the same as the one he-she saw on TV, which is associated with an image, a name, a logo, a slogan. The shop window is there to arouse desire, as an extension of advertising.

In the same way, we can say that contemporary democracies present themselves first and foremost as shop windows – the rulers, the elites have, as it is commonly said, something to sell to the public, a commodity (generally junk) made of messages, slogans, programs, sound terms intended to create adhesion and popularity effects. Contemporary democracies like to show off their best-lit profile – producing window effects such as the organization of festivities and other celebrations, parades (etc.), rather than shining the spotlight on prisons or housing unsanitary. As indicated above, in the configuration of the present, in the field of constantly hardening antagonisms, placed under the sign of the new Cold War, the current operation consisting in staging the contrast between a window of democracy brightly lit and adorned with all the attractions, and the authoritarian or totalitarian obscure shop, held by the enemy of the day, appears of vital importance. In this sense, the showcase effect is only the euphemised version of the traditional Potemkin effect. In both cases, rather than creating a simple illusion, presenting a decoy, the device is intended to create an alternative reality – a reality whose ontological consistency (“thickness”) is established exclusively through the effects of credit that it produces on those that it will incorporate as a public. It is an ontology populated by spectators who become its actors. A weak ontology, obviously, but which tends, in our societies, to become predominant.

The characteristic of the window-effect, like of the Potemkin-effect, is to create as many spaces of invisibility as of visibility – the bric-a-brac of mediocre quality which is sold off in the shops of contemporary democracy disappears in favour of the brilliantly lit fetishes that are displayed in the window. The young Europeans of today are no longer so much, and for good reason, seduced by the "American dream", the American way of life, and even less by the once vaunted American democracy, and for good reason, at time of Trump and Black Lives Matter – but they nevertheless remain under the strong influence of the American cultural industries, they learn English or rather American not in class but by watching “American” series, by being addicted to Netflix and Disney Channel. This is one case, among many others, of the window-effect. And for democracy, indeed, in general, what takes the place of political life today is placed under the same regime – that of the production of discourse and images above all.

This phenomenon is, for various reasons, linked to particular contexts, more or less salient here or elsewhere. France is on the way to becoming an exemplary Potemkin democracy, at the very rate at which its loss of status on an international scale is consummated: as an economic power, accompanied by the disintegration of its political institutions and the collapse of public life. The more its post-imperial status as a "great nation" becomes a visible sham, the more the importance of Potemkin's cosmetics and the production of alternate reality effects grows. France has become, since the beginning of the new century, the country of make-believe and pretense par excellence: the country where the rulers pretend to wage war on the pandemic, to protect the countries of the Sahel against jihadist attacks, to play, in general, some independent role on the international scene... A Potemkine village made of words, gestures, postures and shoulders' sway.

It is the country of tartarinades whose politicians and other platform drummers have made a specialty of verbal words, bluster and promises without effect, the country locked in its presumptions of grandeur inherited from the times of Empire, obstinate in its condition of rentier of the Enlightenment (an entirely imaginary condition, moreover), in the solipsism of a republicanism (a pseudo-republican fundamentalism) that is ever more limited, and capable of arousing the ire or the perplexity in the bordering countries of France. If there are any elites who did not wait for Trump to strike the threadbare cord of make great again, it is indeed those of this country – and de Gaulle was doubtless the last of the statesmen who contended to give this dream an appearance of consistency with its independence (more displayed than real) in international politics, French nuclear deterrence, the outline of "European construction" based on the ostentatious pact with yesterday's enemy, the superficially denazified capitalist and liberal Germany.

The truth remains that France, as a supposed great nation, has never recovered from the defeat of June 1940 and has never ceased, since the Liberation, to work to give substance to the Potemkin village of its re-establishment in the foreground in the concert of nations. It has inexorably become, over the successive loss of the pieces constituting its colonial empire, a power of second rank, losing speed and constant prestige, more and more distinctly subservient, since the end of the last century, to the United States, as the so-called Community Europe became a bear nest.

On the home front, the political, economic and media elites, converted to ultra-liberal doctrines, have systematically set about undermining the foundations of the social State and the institutions that support it – the School (including University and Research), hospitals and the healthcare system in particular, or the apparatus of Justice itself. The state has withdrawn from everything that ensures the quality of public service and has invested heavily in “security” – its own, above all. The cop became the king of the age while teachers and hospital staff found themselves subjected to a regime of perpetual abuse and contempt – that of authority, as well as that of the public. At the (provisional, alas) end of this journey, when the elites and rulers of this country have to face a challenge of the calibre of that of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is a health Beresina with 150,000 dead. Sanofi fails to produce a vaccine against Covid (the Cubans have produced several), an interminable and depressive curfew descends on the country, burdening its social life and undermining what remains of its economic apparatus for years. At the end of this plunge into darkness, there is a campaign for presidential elections entirely enveloped in the phantasmagoria of neo-fascist radicalism, placed under the sign of hatred of the poor foreigner from the global South, of conspiratorial nihilism, of the spirit of crusade, climate- and vaccine-skepticism combined.

It is not the decadence of the Roman Empire, but surely the decline of a nation which, in its very colonial and imperial constitution, has always lived beyond its means, imbued with its self-cantered presumptions, drawing relentless trafficking in the resources (human among others) and the wealth of the countries it dominated and exploited. The "great nation" has always been more or less a showcase, disproportionate to the actual reality of its power. In the 20th century, France found itself twice and in extremis in the camp of the victors in the outcome of the two world wars, but twice, already, the constitutive lie is there: it is the intervention of the Anglo-Saxons against Germany and its allies which made the difference. In the 20th century, all of France's dreams of grandeur, its state and its elites in the first place, are shrouded in lies. What, by contrast, effectively brings out singularities, new energies and inspirations, deploys new lines of force, is located in the field of creation; it stands resolutely on the margins and, before becoming cultural heritage, takes its place as far as possible from the platforms and grandstands where the great nation holds forth – from Mallarmé or Proust to Deleuze and Foucault...

The escape into the imaginary is contagious, it begins more on the side of the elites to contaminate people than the reverse – contrary to what the media are trying to accredit, with/about the all-purpose issue of “populism”, among other things. What we must try to understand is the way in which it comes to bring up the affects of hatred and wickedness, of the desire to harm, to cause suffering. This is directly linked to the loss of grip on reality, repeated failures or escapes from reality.

This is true in France with regard to questions of the past, questions of historical memory - exemplarily and in the very first place, the colonial past and the corpse in the closet which is, still and always, the colonization of Algeria, but also the sleight of hand by which, in the national novel,[1] this point of collapse of the myth of the great nation which is the defeat of 1940, on which the Occupation and the Collaboration are linked, is found transfigured, with the celebration of the Resistance and the Liberation, in a national and patriotic success story. It is not for nothing that Zemmour, as a tenor of elite nihilism, has chosen to re-inflame precisely this wound, by undertaking to deliberately spoil this sensitive chapter of the national novel - with his rehabilitation of Pétain as a "savior" of French Jews.

But these failures in the face of reality (these failures in the face of the tests imposed by the evolutions and mutations of the forms of social and cultural life, geo-political conditions, etc.) manifest themselves just as much in this very field where the questions of the present closely intertwine with those of the past – all of which the Charlie Hebdo episode and everything linked to it is the symptom (the return of the repression of colonization in the form of the rise of Islamophobia) is only the most conspicuous and constant manifestation: a counter-revolution rampant, political, social and cultural all in one piece and whose stake is the all-fantastic restoration of an untraceable Eden lost: this mythical time when "we" were among ourselves, proud, beautiful and strong, respected, better, object of general admiration from abroad, where everything worked and where the nation shone with all its fires.

The more the failures accumulate in the face of the tests imposed by the present, these tests of truth around which the news is arranged, and the more the collective flight into the imagination digs its furrow, with all the interactions that are tied there, between the distractions, the forfeitures of those in power and the disorientation of those below. After the Charlie moment, the pandemic was the next crash test, the test of truth during which the inexorable character of these interactions is manifested: the more the rulers and the elites display their incompetence and their duplicity in the face of the pandemic, the more the confidence that the governed can still grant to those on high is undermined, and the more the floodgates of flight into the imaginary are wide open: the errors and lies of the former are prolonged and reinforce the antivax delirium of the seconds. The loop of the general attenuation of taps on the real is thus closed.

Finally, during the last political sequence, the only moment when there was a massive and salutary effect of a return to reality was the episode of the Yellow Vests. And this return was the effect of a movement that arose from the most improbable, the most unexpected social depths, and the least destined, in appearance, to bring about this ephemeral rescue. But we now know that it was unfortunately only an interlude, a too brief respite between two disastrous escapes placed under the influence of fantasy: the caricatures of Muhammad and “Pfizer kills”.

The fantasy is the fixed idea (which is not an idea but an image, a vibration, an intensity) which moves around and rehashes, it is the indulgent refrain which constantly returns under a new appearance – thus, from the caricatures of Muhammad to the "great replacement", it is the same reactive intensity which is revived, under another name, it is the same obsession, the same disease of the post-colonial white man, the same pathology of its civilization. And "Pfizer kills" is the same bad turn of popular distrust of rulers and the powerful: we put ourselves in battle order against the windmills, against the shadows on the walls of the cave...

Other setup. For obvious reasons, the promotion of Taiwanese democracy, the creation of its more than attractive, enchanted image, is the result of this procedure par excellence: the production of a "showcase effect", the composition of a Potemkin village of democracy. It is that it is, in the order of the discourses of hegemony, what, in the Chinese world, is supposed to oppose completely to the authoritarian or totalitarian Chinese state. The small island is par excellence, in this discursive and imaginary production, this island of democracy, this fragile but persevering incarnation of the ideal Democracy which resists the Chinese ogre, the embodiment, him, in the world of today, of what aspires to the destruction of democracy. We are dealing, with this discursive production and the fabrication of this image, with a perfect example of the composition of what we call a showcase.

It is clear that this is above all a figuration effect, that is to say the production of an image endowed with the power to act (Philippe Descola). Taiwan, as singularity, singular power, State, people, culture, "world" in the sense here of a microcosm endowed with an exemplary value... - this small island/isolate would not be much and we would not worry about it so much if its function was not to embody and represent democracy as an absolute value and a hypostasis in the face of what is presented as its pure antagonist. This staging and the organization of discourse that is inseparable from it clearly show that what matters today, above all, with the promotion of democracy as an extension of the battle for hegemony, is the production of images and the preservation of the conduct of narratives. The less real Western-style and white-centric democracies have verifiable performances to their credit, the less they are associated with distinct positivities, and the more their representation and their promotion is placed under the empire of signs whose referents are nebulous and, as in advertising, images that are so many mirrors to the larks.

It is also in this sense that the pandemic is epoch-making: insofar as it was directly connected to the war of the worlds, with the nihilistic promotion of the "Chinese virus" by Trump (as if by magic, the following viruses have been endowed with code names corresponding to scientific uses, intended to neutralize, precisely, the effects of stigmatization produced by their association with a place of origin – English variant, South African virus, etc.), it has become an issue leader in the war of stories and the battle of images – and this battle, Trump's America and with it its European allies and its Brazilian or other imitators have distinctly lost it against the Chinese competitor promoted to the rank of enemy. This battle was lost in the real world where it is counted and described in terms of the number of deaths, its manifestations in terms of the disruption of forms of life, the increase in equality, the production of phenomena of disorientation and collective depression, are manifest and verifiable.

This blatant defeat recorded by the democracies on the Covid front, in the face of the enemy stigmatized as neo-totalitarian (subject to the regime of biopolitics - thanatopolitics, rather - Trumpian, China would have recorded millions of deaths, on the scale of its population) makes all the more urgent and vital the transition to the regime under which the substitution of images and narratives for the evaluation and verification of real performance. As it happens, incidentally, that Taiwan has, as an exception in the archipelago of global democracy, recorded good results in the campaign against the pandemic (but by resorting to techniques and tactics unmistakably similar to those deployed in mainland China, the visible differences being first and foremost the abyssal chasm that separates the two continents in terms of scale and geography), the island has become, in the war of signs and images, the ideal son-in-law (or the daughter-in-law) of Western democracy in East Asia. It is today the very example of what actualizes the ongoing process of reversing the relationship between the image, the sign, and what they are supposed to represent: the "vibrant" Taiwanese democracy is less an element of reality in the current sense, than a question of image above all.

It is, in this sense, an artefact endowed with agency, with the power to act. But we can never insist too much here on the fact that in this general configuration (that of the promotion of global democracy at the time of its very irresistible obsolescence), the destiny of images is inseparable from that of narratives and discourses - even if we keep in mind the condition of irreducibility from one domain to another - because we cannot strictly speaking evoke a language of images, insists Descola who prefers to link their destiny to figuration understood as power to act. The fact remains that the showcase effects and the production of Potemkin villages, in the promotional system of contemporary democracy, are based, inseparably, on the production and dissemination of images and on this form of total mobilization in the discursive field that is the war of narratives or, in a more traditional language, propaganda.

The question of knowing what this or that democracy is really made of or, to use Alain Badiou's successful formula, what it is the name of, tends to give way to the expected effects of the production of the image. We see how much we have moved away here from a traditional schema according to which appearance is what opposes reality, a reality of which it is only the weakened or misleading copy. The dualism of reality and appearance stands at the foundation of the inexhaustible discursivity of the self-referential critique of democracy: against democratic appearances or increasingly "apparent" democracies, that is to say fallacious, imitation democracies, it would be appropriate to return to “true” democracy, democracy in its original form as opposed to its defective and illusory copy(ies).

But, in the case of contemporary democracies, it would be less about the production of bad copies or counterfeits than shiny artefacts. The question of the referent or the original (an untraceable and fantastical democracy of before, a pre-adamic time of "true" democracy, that of "before") is erased before that of rhetoric and fabrication images intended to bring out an alternative reality while rendering imperceptible a pseudo-reality whose texture can only be associated by convention with this unfindable democracy “in itself”.

The rhetorical operation of fabricating democracy as opposed to what is supposed to oppose it is pure sophistry, inspired by the spirit of contemporary cynicism (Zynismus): no matter, basically, what this or such a democracy is made, what it consists of on the ground and what it is worth – only the effects produced by the image-democracy, the label and the regulated games of opposition that can follow on this production matter: Taiwan against China, democracy against totalitarianism, liberalism against communism, etc.

Criticism (as the attitude of the critical observer, Foucault would say) will focus, in these conditions, on the making of images, on the operations intended to produce showcase effects and to bring out the Potemkin villages. The critique of the search for the performative effects expected from these operations cannot do without a return to the referent: when you never stop praising in an incantatory mode the "vibrant Taiwanese democracy" - what are you actually talking about? This critical moment always occurs when it is the return to reality, to the elements that make up a real world, to a tangible and verifiable singularity that matters. However, this return can only take place on the condition of the dismantling of rhetorical operations, castles of images, and the perforation of the shells of discourse. Critical analytics presupposes both immersion in the field of images and discourses intended to give substance to paper democracy and the ability to detach oneself from it – at the crossroads between inside and outside. This position of the critical observer is not that of the enemy of democracy, nor is it strictly speaking that which consists in denouncing an imposture, it consists more soberly in issuing a diagnosis of the present in deconstructing the operations in the course of which it appears as entirely dedicated to the promotion of democracy and the fight against its enemies.

Under this regime, democracy that should always be written as Democracy (a deity deserves capitals) has become an emblem, that is to say the mixture of an image and a statement charged with signifying powers, a bit like «Senatus Populusque Romanus» in the time of the Roman Republic or «Dem deutschen Volke» on the pediment of the Bundestag (Reichs-...) in the past and today. But the characteristic of the emblem here is to represent a supposed reality in the most problematic way possible. The emblem, in many ways, is similar to a slogan, the one by means of which sovereignty is exposed. The emblem is not so much the mode of appearing of a given reality as of a more or less illusory pretension. It conceals an affirmation, that of a power and, as such, it is above all a matter of rhetoric - also of cosmetics. It does not describe the part of reality that constitutes its referent, it captures it and reduces it to its conditions, it monopolizes it, even enslaves it. During this operation, the specific features of this real world, of this singularity fade in favour of the promotion of the image. Democracy, in this sense, is, from a realistic perspective, more composed of all that it represses and conceals from view than of what it exposes or exhibits.

Faced with the constancy of this operation, the task of criticism is to demand a return to the real, just as that of philosophy was, in the early days of Husserlian phenomenology, to operate a return "to things themselves". This return to reality aims to identify the elements that come together in the promotion of the image of democracy and the arrangements that organize the interactions, the functioning integrated into what the referent of democracy is made of. It is a question of showing the pieces and parts, in particular those that the emblematic operation, the production of the truth effect, of the "showcase effect" pushes into the shadows.

The return to reality, in this sense, goes through the dismantling of arrangements, an operation of deconstruction of this false “beautiful totality” that is Democracy. It is not only a question of identifying "controversial facts" constituting as many objections to the apology (theodicy?) of contemporary democracy, facts likely to darken the picture or highlight the gap separating real democracy from that which displays its principles and values. It would rather be a question of showing that the latter, a pure idea not of reason but of propaganda (the making of images, the production of the spectacle), a fantastical image, a false ideal in all respects, is entirely soluble in the real elements that compose it, in the democratic empire, in real democracy as an aggregate and combination of phenomena – the objectivity, the phenomenality of what is subsumed under the name of democracy. Democracy and in particular contemporary democracy is not an enchanted castle made of principles, ideas and values but of its real arrangements – its phenomenality that is not reducible to its sheer materiality.

It is here that the Badiousian question, which has become a gimmick, can regain vigour as it is recycled by people in a hurry who eat at all the racks - journalists, politicians... What, for example, is the supposedly exemplary Taiwanese democracy the name of? Well, it is, among other things, the name of a state where the death penalty is doing wonderfully, entering into the political calculations of those in power (one executes preferably on the eve of electoral deadlines, just to show one's grip) as it fulfils the wishes of a large fraction of public opinion drawn to bloody miscellaneous facts and followers of the law of retaliation[2]. It is also this freedom-loving country dedicated to tolerance which, alone in East Asia, has converted to marriage for all, but where civil servants are deprived of the right to strike and where the amount of the minimum wage is different for home-grown workers and foreigners (immigrant plebs from Southeast Asia). It is a democracy whose supporters gladly praise the attachment to liberal values, in opposition and contrast with the "Orwellian" regime supposed to prevail in mainland China, but whose public and private spaces are criss-crossed by such a dense network of cameras that freedom and surveillance create, for the citizen, a compact and unalterable block.

It is a democracy whose annual gay parade attracts an ever more active and unbridled international rainbow tourism - but where adultery is hardly decriminalized - while continuing to offer the sidewalk media (all of them, more or less) and a large majority of public opinion, the opportunity for memorable and pleasurable man (woman) hunts, as soon as political celebrities, sportsmen, stars, etc. are involved.

It is a democracy where, in times of pandemic, electronic snitches are authoritatively implanted in smartphones and where the traveller entering the country is endlessly treated as a suspect and subjected to forms of surveillance and house arrest distinctly vexatious, paranoid and inspired by the spirit of the police more than by health rationalities. It is a democracy in which I am surprised to see that any doctor working in both the hospital and private sectors has one-click access on his computer to complete data concerning my state of health, the medicines that have been prescribed to me, the treatments that I am following...

Taiwan is this democratic paradise on earth where the bulldozer and other construction tools are kings, where therefore the destruction of the environment and the urban disaster reach such proportions that this is indeed the first shock (and lasting) that the European traveller registers. It is the flirtatious democracy where they build nuclear power stations and dams on a ground traversed by seismic faults, in spaces exposed to climatic accidents of the first magnitude (such as typhoon Morakot which, in 2009, carried away many bridges and engulfed entire villages). Taiwan is this freedom-loving democracy where the elites mobilize for a Hong Kong devoured by the Beijing ogre, as well as against the Uighur "genocide" – but from where asylum seekers who entered the island illegally and invoked political persecution in their country are sent back to the mainland without qualms. It is this country of tolerance which readily presents itself (unlike France) as "Muslim friendly", but where, when vouchers are put into circulation, during the pandemic, intended to compensate for the losses of income suffered by the less fortunate (the vast majority of the population whose salaries are shockingly low), servants and other subordinates from Southeast Asia, Indonesian and Muslim for many, are excluded from the benefit of these liberalities – let them content themselves with the day off which is graciously offered to them on the occasion of Ramadan...[3]

The vibrant Taiwanese democracy is a triumph across the board – a democracy of paper, of communication, and where what is perceived, experienced and lived from the inside is out of all proportion to what is promoted and praised by the painted canvas or the shop window. The return to reality is this in the first place: what is obvious and which the power of discourse (discourse power) does not manage to abolish: these construction machines, voracious steel monsters which tirelessly work to ransack the landscape, to destroy old buildings, to push back the frontiers of megalopolises, to concrete green spaces with a view to the construction of a hypermarket, an underground car park, a set of offices, a mall, of one more gated community...

There is, in principle, in democracy as it presents itself in its best light, promotes itself, is praised, an aesthetic dimension: it is, in its Greek inspiration, Mediterranean, solar, supposed to constitute a beautiful totality and the aura that surrounds it durably, in modern societies, is indistinct from this aesthetic quality – by contrast with grey totalitarian societies where everything is ugly. The question then immediately arises, when, coming from elsewhere, one gets it into his head to live on this much vaunted promontory of democratic life in the China Sea: how could democratic ideality as much as real democracy possibly be compatible with so much ugliness, so much vulgarity inscribed in the landscape and the very forms of life? With these ubiquitous concentration camps for poultry and other meat animals, with the poisoning of waterways and grounds with pesticides, the maddening levels of air pollution in the towns, the intensive agriculture doped with additives and GMOs of all kinds, overproduction and waste everywhere, the proliferation of plastic and polystyrene, fruits that are too perfect, carrots of suspicious size, meat imported from the United States flavoured with ractopamine, newly restored imports of foodstuffs from the region of Fukushima, mountains ravaged by extraction, seas and beaches scoured by overfishing and gregarious tourism, cement factories and hotel complexes ruining the most enchanting sights, highways and road interchanges everywhere, from preferably in the middle of towns and close to dwellings; the plebs of lorry drivers, forced labourers and aborigines (often the same ones) addicted to betel nuts and thus slowly and surely moving towards a bright future in the form of throat cancer; semi-conductors, jewel of the perpetual Taiwanese economic miracle and true support of the democratic mirage, depleting the water reserves of the island – but beyond the reach of any criticism or reserve – let's not touch the Golden Calf...

And then, impressively, waste everywhere, plastic cups and bottles lying on the sidewalks, wild dumps almost everywhere, agricultural areas invaded by residues and other products derived from intensive production and, even more astonishing, individual homes invaded by packaging, cardboard, paper, cans, bottles and other traces of hyper-consumption, this over the course of a staggering process of “self-garbagement” of private spaces – Taiwan is not only one of the countries which undoubtedly produces one of the largest volumes of waste per inhabitant in the world, it is a society in which the common people have become accustomed to living with the non-immediately degradable remnants of their blind mode consumerist life, the first element of Taiwanese democracy is plastic-king (a prosperous and untouchable industry), Taiwanese democracy is that of packaging, the world of disposable items which pile up in heaps impossible to eliminate. A trash-democracy, so understood, literally.

And then, of course, there is politics – well, what takes its place and which is essentially reduced to the soap opera of the perpetual little war pitting the Montaigu (the “Greens”, DPP) of a more and more openly declared independence camp, to the Capulets of the party endlessly bent under the burden of the legacy of the military dictatorship (the "Blues", KMT). War of words and intrigues, dire parochialism, war for the exercise of power above all, exhibiting in the most caricature-like mode the failings of bipartisanship, war where everything is summed up in simplistic and propagandist formulas and now behaving with reversed fronts: the Kuomintang, heir to the great loser of the civil war, is now taxed by its competitor in power as a hostage and client of the Chinese Communist Party, while the separatists in power now pose more and more openly as the legitimate heir to the anti-communist fight led by Chiang Kai Chek and his son (who, on his death, succeeded him on the throne). A grotesque war, therefore, in its substance as in its form, so blurred are the ideological dividing lines separating these two formations competing in the promotion of ultra-liberalism and practicing clanism and clientelism. When the KMT is in business, it advocates importing GMO-enhanced US beef to the island and the DPP cries foul; when the DPP exercises power, it gives the green light to import pork from the same source containing ractopamine; the KMT then organizes the protest and finds there a way to fill itself up a bit. This burlesque anecdote says it all about the intrinsic quality and the level at which Taiwanese democracy stands.

Today, the only thing that separates the two government parties is the mad one-upmanship into which the DPP is launched in matters of instrumentalization of the fantasy motif par excellence of the "Chinese threat" and of blind followership and servile behaviour towards the American administration. Taiwanese leaders were arguably the only ones in the world (shortly ahead of the Israeli supremacist right) to support Trump all the way, including the Capitol episode. More staid and realistic, the caciques of the KMT stick to a more balanced position, based in particular on the perpetuation of the status quo with China. This is the only substantive difference between the two parties, with the result that, with the whole of the country's domestic politics being placed under the sacramental motif of the "China threat", which is expressed and debated in every possible way, all the problems rooted in the real world of the island are swept away by the breath of this perpetual logomachic tropical storm - the first victim of the "China threat" - is the class struggle on the island, whose very name is unpronounceable. And yet, if there is one country where the division between the oligarchic elites and the overexploited working mass is firmly rooted in reality, it is this enchanted democracy.

From a soberly biopolitical point of view, one could say that contemporary democracies fall into two species: those that provide the living under their jurisdiction with drinking water from the tap and those that do not care or are unable to do that. Taiwan's vibrant democracy belongs to the second category, just as it fails to guarantee people the benefit of breathable air or drinkable water of satisfactory quality. However, it happens that people, before being entertained by the adventures of democracy-spectacle (in the form of a soap opera), have a vital need for drinking water and breathing clean air. The real always ends up coming back, in its most trivial forms, that is to say, real, precisely...

[1] “Le roman national” - the combination of facts, events, dates, names, myths, legends, black spots that make up the more or less consensual narrative of/on the national past in France...

[2] In the same spirit, Taiwan is a country where people who have been sentenced to prison and have a psychiatric record can be kept indefinitely in detention by a purely administrative decision based on a valuation by a commission made of specialists. This law and order use of psychiatry is typical for authoritarian and totalitarian regimes.

[3] What could be added to that, by passing, is that taday migrant workers are not free to change their job and employer – not enough to make of them slaves, properly speaking, but well enough to design them as workers under contraint and typical subalterns.