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For a Culture of Hope: Book Review

"Where economic calculation first relativizes all non-economic values and then dissolves them completely, a nihilism seemingly without alternative dominates that passes into a mysticism of death.. The question of power is raised because alternatives are part of human nature. Alternatives always exist. Alternatives are not impossible today but are made impossible..Refusing this generalization..would play into the hands of neoliberal fragmentation."
For a Culture of Hope

By Christoph Juenke

Book Review of: Franz Hinkelammert, Kulture der Hoffnung. Fur eine Gesellschaft ohne Ausgrenzung und Naturzerstorung (1999) (For a Culture of Hope. For a Society without Exclusion and Destruction of Nature)

[This book review originally published in: SoZ-Sozialistische Zeitung Nr.2, January 20, 2000 is translated from the german on the World Wide Web,  http://www.vsp-vernetzt.de/soz/0002152.htm. Franz Hinkelammert is a prominent liberationtheologian living in Costa Rica.]

In 1981, Franz J. Hinkelammert published "The Ideological Weapons of Death. On the Metaphysics of Capitalism" and wrote about "a new era.. without a commonly acknowledged designation". In the founding of the so-called trilateral Commission, he saw the first systematic "attempt to replace the liberal era and classical liberal democracy with new power systems on the scale of the capitalist world system".

The essential goal of this organization is the implementation and ideological justification of a new international economic division of labor that subordinates all social, cultural and political considerations to the interests of multinational corporations and worldwide economic institutions. In the Latin American context from which Hinkelammert writes, this means abandoning the attempted equalized industrialization organized by the particular nation state that dismisses the goal of full employment. The methods are manifest: impoverishment and exclusion of whole groups of the population, repression of the opposition and the authoritarian police regime. The central role of the term human rights in this process is analyzed by Hinkelammert in detail.

Freedom was reduced to the freedom of the market. Social and political human rights were viewed as secondary and often as corporative obstacles to the necessary liberalization. "The guarantee of human rights is annulled and replaced by the campaign in favor of human rights. The goal of this campaign is not to achieve a guarantee of human rights but to control their violation in the framework necessary for the free accumulation of capital on the world scale."

Hinkelammert's description of the practical-political consequences has amazing relevance to the present. "The criticism of human rights violations is transformed into a kind of praise for the trilateral countries themselves who in reality are the causal agents of these human rights violations. They now appear as islands of relative respect for human rights serving as models to others... Their criticism of the violation of human rights is the instrument for maintaining this situation of their violation."

The 1991 Gulf war and the 1999 Nato-war against Yugoslavia mark twenty years since these lines were written. The violent enforcement of this form of human rights ideology has occurred. In the meantime the new era has a largely recognized designation. Like few others, Hinkelammert described and attacked the enforcement of neoliberalism, for example in his 1994 work "Critique of Utopian Reason. On the Main Currents of Modern Social Theory".

Not accidentally early and systematic criticism of neoliberal ideology comes from Latin America. The first historical attempt to make neoliberal ideas worldwide and hegemonial began in 1973 in Pinochet's Chile. Franz Hinkelammert was a committed witness of this dramatic development. Born in Germany in 1931, he went to Latin America in the early 60s following his economic training. He was engaged in Salvador Allende's peaceful way to socialism and had to flee after the Pinochet putsch. In 1976, he returned to Latin America and was professor of economics in Honduras and Costa Rica and a leading supporter of Latin American liberation theology.

The theme of the occidental rebellion against human rights and their reduction to liberal private property and free enterprise greed for profit is the central thread of his latest work. In the nine essays, Hinkelammert shows his committed political side and unmasks market-radical neoliberalism as a new social idol. Hinkelammert is not weary of demonstrating the sacrilization of capitalism in events and ideas. He demonstrates that the supposed anti-utopia market is only a wicked utopia promising the definitive destruction of utopias.

The anti-utopia market is a murderous-suicidal utopia. An absolutized market mechanism proves to be a coercive system and forces the human and ecological catastrophe. Where economic calculation first relativizes all non-economic values and then dissolves them completely, a nihilism seemingly without alternative dominates that passes into a mysticism of death. Resistance begins by refusing the question of changing capitalist relations of production, the question of socialism.

Common action based on solidarity is the decisive means against the destructive tendencies. The question of power is raised because alternatives are part of human nature. Alternatives always exist. Alternatives are not impossible today but are made impossible. Serious alternatives, Hinkelammert warns, must not fall in the trap of the dominant anti-budgetism. Rather the state is an indispensable "instance for the globalization of resistance". Refusing this generalization and political intensification would play into the hands of neoliberal fragmentation. Thus oppositional forces should not dismantle the state but its repressive institutions. The arising residual state must be consistently democratized.

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