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Hegemonic Liberalism: Martha Nussbaum, Jörg Haider, and the Struggle for Late Modernity

L.H.M. Ling

International Studies Association
41st Annual Convention
Los Angeles, CA
March 14-18, 2000



Modernity seems up for grabs these days. At the onset of the 21st-century, many wonder whether we have left the previous two’s certainty that there is one, generalisable modernity, represented by the capitalist West, to which we all progress. Or, have we entered an era of multiple modernities also known as postmodernity? Some celebrate postmodernity’s emancipatory implications, such as its dismantling of tired dualisms like West vs Rest and Self vs Other. Others dread postmodernity’s ‘fragmenting’ and ‘de-traditionalising’ effects, especially as they are conveyed by increasing globalisation. Still others welcome the new opportunities that a postmodern, globalised world offers yet fear, at the same time, its destabilising consequences.

This paper makes a contrary argument. It suggests that modernity and postmodernity need each other to help make sense of our contemporary, late-modern world. Our understanding of modernity benefits from postmodernism’s exposure of self-delusory assumptions about certainty, universality, and humanity. Similarly, postmodernism enhances its emancipatory appeal when heeding modernism’s critiques about opaque concepts, impenetrable prose, and excessive contemplativeness. This relational perspective assuages anxieties about postmodern ‘fragmentation’ and ‘de-traditionalisation’ with modernism’s sense of groundedness, just as it relieves fears of a return to authoritarian modernity in the name of progress and stability with postmodernism’s commitment to difference, multiplicity, and fluidity.

To demonstrate this mutuality between modernity and postmodernity, I begin with Martha Nussbaum’s recent, withering critique of Judith Butler as a paradigm of postmodern ‘thick soup’ prose and even denser concepts. For Nussbaum, Butlerian postmodernism — particularly its ‘performative’ aspects — threatens modernity’s commitment to action, empowerment, progress, and, above all, clarity. Though I agree with many of Nussbaum’s critiques (having made some of the same elsewhere 1 ), I suggest that her version of modernist certainty could use some postmodern reflection. Without it, Nussbaum’s own capabilities approach, which claims a liberal-internationalist humanitarianism, could turn easily into a ‘dark’ other: for example, the conservative-nationalist agenda of Jörg Haider’s Freedom Party (FPÖ) in Austria. 2

At first glance, this comparison may seem outrageous, even profane. After all, Nussbaum has written extensively in favour of a liberal cosmopolitanism that would not discriminate against individuals due to ‘accidents of birth’, 3 cautioned against ‘thoughtless’ emotion rallied for dubious personal or political gain, and sought, specifically in her work for the United Nations’ World Institute for Development Economic Research (WIDER), to help the world’s most vulnerable, silenced members: third-world women. Jörg Haider would seem completely incompatible with this record. He has made controversial statements against immigrants and other ‘foreigners’, relied on a heart-thumping nationalism that vindicates Austria’s lost glory as a former empire, and promoted traditional family values that would subordinate all women to a father-knows-best patriarchy. In terms of their personal histories, Nussbaum is a converted Jew whereas Haider has been known to consort with former Nazis. One last objection may be that Haider may count as a temporary phenomenon only, whereas Nussbaum’s philosophy dates from the ancient Greeks. 4

I do not trivialise these differences. They should be kept in mind throughout this paper. However, Nussbaum’s liberal internationalism and Haider’s conservative nationalism share an important commonality: hegemony. Each advocates a social programme based on Western, liberal values of individualism, democracy, and capitalist self-help but apply it hegemonically. Here, I use Antonio Gramsci’s definition of hegemony to refer to a consolidation of ‘intellectual and moral leadership’ by ruling elites to ensure coercive power over the masses through their consent. Nussbaum and Haider cull popular consent for a late-modern, hegemonic liberalism by returning to an early-modernist truism: i.e., there is only one way to understand, live, and be in the world and it is theirs. Their world happens to be ‘progressive’, ‘democratic’, and ‘enabling’. By implication, any resistance to or difference from this world means ‘stagnation’, ‘oppression’, and ‘disempowerment’. Herein lies the crux. Because neither acknowledges the postmodern message that multiple worlds may exist — each with its own cherished traditions of humanism, development, and virtue — they cannot conceive of any relationship among multiple worlds, much less the possibility of learning across them. Both assume a zero-sum logic to world-making. It is either their world or no world, their future or no future, their salvation or no salvation. In flattening humanity into only one possible world, both Nussbaum and Haider betray their own professed goals of democracy, freedom, and human dignity.

My comparison of Nussbaum and Haider, accordingly, focuses on them as representative philosophies. Their salience remains whether the individuals themselves stay politically viable or not. To represent Nussbaum’s thinking on human development, I draw primarily from her latest book, Sex and Social Justice (SSJ, 1999), as well as two recent articles: ‘Professor of Parody’ (PP, 1999) and ‘Objectification’ (O, 1995). 5 For Haider, I concentrate on his speeches as well as party documents provided by the FPÖ’s English page on its website. These include ‘The State of the Republic and the Situation of the FPÖ’ (SRSF), ‘20 Points for the "Contract with Austria" (CWA)’, ‘Program of the Austrian Freedom Party’ (PAFP), ‘The 100 Day Programme of Candidate Governor Dr Jörg Haider’ (100DP), and ‘Ten Points for a Citizen’s Europe’ (CE).


Social Control:

Real Norms vs Fake Subversion

In her searing critique of Judith Butler, Martha Nussbaum crescends on the following charge:

To such people [who believe in ‘performative’ subversion] we should say, you cannot simply resist as you please, for there are norms of fairness, decency, and dignity that entail that this is bad behavior. But then we have to articulate those norms — and this Butler refuses to do (PP: 12). 6

Nussbaum cites as examples of this ‘subversion for subversion’s sake’ school of thought the possibility of ‘resist[ing] the tax structure, or the antidiscrimination laws, or perhaps even to join the militias’(PP: 11). These counter-subversions underscore the lack of moral direction in Butler’s thought. She cannot explain, queries Nussbaum, ‘why the subversion of gender norms is a social good [for example] while the subversion of justice norms is a social bad’ (PP: 11).

Nussbaum locates herself, in contrast, in the heartland of traditional feminist theorising where ‘it is possible for theorists to be dedicated to the public good and to achieve something through that effort’ (PP: 16). For this reason, Nussbaum claims, feminists have been able to achieve

…many concrete projects: the reform of rape law; winning attention and legal redress for the problems of domestic violence and sexual harassment; improving women’s economic opportunities, working conditions, and education; winning pregnancy benefits for female workers; campaigning against the trafficking of women and girls in prostitution; working for the social and political equality of lesbians and gay men (PP: 1).

A philosopher, she emphasises, is morally obligated to improve the world, rather than recline complacently in armchair theorising. Butler’s fixation with endless semiotics and other signs of ‘performative’ subversion threatens to undo all this progress, particularly at this critical juncture in history when women have achieved much but still have more to overcome. This pertains especially to third-world women who must contend with outmoded laws and traditions that deny them expression as full human beings.

I do not wish to revisit the Butler-Nussbaum debate, exciting though it may be. (Others have joined the fray already.) 7 Rather, I seek to address the issue of social control inadvertently highlighted by a central contradiction in Nussbaum’s critique of Butler. That is, if Nussbaum is correct that Butlerian subversion tactics divert real action from real reforms, then one may ask, wouldn’t the opposite apply as well? That is, just as performative subversion may undermine collective action for social change, wouldn’t it also deflect the same critical mass from real subversion? In either case, social control — precisely Nussbaum’s point — remains untouched. And if that is so, then where lies justice or liberation of the Self, even under ‘enlightened’ norms?

Clearly, Nussbaum would object. She would retort that she aims not for social control but the articulation of proper, social norms. She has argued extensively in SSJ and elsewhere, that these entail a capabilities approach to human development. It identifies ‘a kind of basic human flourishing’ based on the following ten criteria: life; bodily health and integrity; bodily integrity; 8 senses imagination, thought; emotions; practical reason; affiliation; other species; play; and, control over one’s environment (SSJ: 40-41). Deficiency in any would undermine an individual’s claim to ‘a good human life’ (SSJ: 42). The focus on capabilities would shift governmental action from what individuals should think or do (which would amount to tyranny) to how. Towards this end, society has an obligation to provide individuals with the basic infrastructure to enable them to make choices. ‘Once the stage is fully set’, Nussbaum assures us, ‘the choice is up to them’ (SSJ: 45). Nussbaum advocates this capabilities approach for all members of humanity, not just one’s own compatriots. ‘I believe that individuals have moral obligations to promote justice for people outside their national boundaries and that their governments do also’ (SSJ: 6). To this sense of public duty and cosmopolitan concern, I could not commend more.

Nevertheless, Nussbaum’s vision of ‘good’ theorising recalls an earlier era of authoritarian, missionary zeal. It emerges from her insistence on liberal norms of ‘personhood, autonomy, rights, dignity, self-respect’(SSJ: 56) — wonderful values, per se — as an universal good without due interrogation into their mix with a pre-existing context of other norms, values, practices, histories, and institutions. Her kind of feminism, Nussbaum declares, is ‘internationalist, humanist, liberal, concerned with the social shaping of preference and desire, and finally, concerned with sympathetic understanding’ (SSJ: 6, original emphases). She cites a group of feminists in China, for instance, who reject Confucianism in favour of the liberal norm of human rights. This, for Nussbaum, demonstrates the international character of liberal thought and norms. ‘What is East and what is West?,’ she asks rhetorically (SSJ: 9). Yet nowhere in her thick tome does she consider the possibility that liberalism may have something to learn from, say, the Confucian sense of humanism or virtue-by-example. (Although Nussbaum makes frequent references to non-Western thinkers like Rabindranath Tagore and Satyajit Ray.) Because Nussbaum tends to see these other traditions, particularly in their patriarchal form, as obstacles to the full realization of personhood through choice, she implicitly rationalises their dismissal (to put it mildly) or extinction (to put it more harshly). This ‘civilizing mission’, Gayatri Spivak reminds us in her response to Nussbaum’s critique of Butler, is an old, colonial story that bears not retelling (TNR, 1999).

Nussbaum has faced such criticisms before. She squarely admits that some Western cultural traditions are just as oppressive as non-Western ones. Precisely for this reason, she argues, we must expose and condemn injustice wherever we find it. We cannot hide under the moral coward’s relativist blanket that if we are not from a particular society, culture, or tradition, then we have no right to say anything about it. Drawing on Dante, she excoriates cultural relativists as those ‘who cannot even get to hell because they have not been willing to stand for anything in life, one way or another’ (SSJ: 30). Accordingly, she gladly suffers the label of Western imperialist, than stand idly by in a protected, relativist corner, while all sorts of ‘evil’ (a favourite word) swirl around us. Indeed, she retorts to Spivak, she has ‘spent a lot of time during the past few years with activists and women’s development projects in India’ and she has ‘never yet met a poor woman who told [her] she took pleasure in subjection’ or who did not ‘struggle for access to credit, education, employment opportunities, political representation, and shelter from domestic violence’ (TNR, 1999: 6).



Imperialism, Capabilities, and the FPÖ

Though Nussbaum may carry on righteously, I submit that her insistence on liberalism as the philosophy of all that is right and good entails the very evils that she wants to eradicate. Herein lies the comparison with Haider. Recalling Spivak’s critique of Nussbaum’s ‘civilizing mission’, I use imperialism as a standard to evaluate the hegemonic nature of both the capabilities approach and the FPÖ party programme. Specifically, I focus on six, key features of imperialism: i.e., state-centrism, politics as primary, claims of territoriality, metropole-directed thought and action, dichotomies of coloniser vs colonised, and objectification of Self and its Other. 9 Each alone does not a hegemony make. It is their combination that matters.

As the next section will show, Nussbaum’s liberal internationalism flips easily into Haider’s conservative nationalism. This is not because both are concerned with political action or spout liberal ideals. Rather, her brand of liberal internationalism, like his version of conservative nationalism, turns into a hegemonic project due to its lack of a relational understanding between Self and Other. Both offer a singleminded, unidirectional programme of reform where the Self appropriates the right to instruct Others. 10 Where the Nussbaum-Self seeks to empower third-world-women-Others by instructing them in capitalist self-help, the Haider-Self aims the same for immigrant-refugee-Others in Austria by returning them to their ‘homelands’. Neither wants to engage in a dialogue with Others. Either they have nothing worthwhile to say (Haider’s position), or they don’t know yet who they are and what they want (Nussbaum’s). Given this presumption, Nussbaum and Haider virtually territorialise hegemony by centring the West as the world’s abiding metropole. For Nussbaum, this takes on the form of Western, liberal universalism; for Haider, a Christian-German-European cultural chauvinism. Both stake a claim on modernity through their authority to pass it on to others. Consequently, they identify social relations as opposed and asymmetrical, ranging from universalists vs relativists and saviours vs victims for Nussbaum, to natives vs immigrants and Austrians vs Europeans for Haider. Nussbaum concedes only one possibility of bridging such divides: i.e., the kind of intimacy found in a longterm, loving marriage. Otherwise, she adds, objectification of one’s partner under specified conditions of mutual consent may be possible to deliver ‘a joyous part of sexual life’ (O: 279). Given that society as a whole cannot achieve such marital intimacy, Haider resorts to a social objectification that utilises the body parts of ‘foreigners’ for seasonal employment, and those of women for national reproduction.

Let us examine these comparisons in greater detail. I begin with Nussbaum’s liberal internationalism, followed by Haider’s conservative nationalism.


Nussbaum’s Liberal Internationalism:

Hegemony Unveiled

Reformist Politics, Women’s Rights, and the State. Nussbaum establishes her internationalist credentials by first rejecting what she calls cultural relativism. We cannot treat cultures as monolithic, she admonishes. It would undermine pluralistic forces within cultures that have been marginalised by hegemonic, usually patriarchal, enforcers of ‘tradition’. ‘Under the banner of their fashionable opposition to universalism’, she writes, ‘march ancient religious taboos, the luxury of the pampered husband, educational deprivation, unequal health care, and premature death’ (SSJ: 36). Sameness overrides difference where injustice is concerned:

We would never tolerate a claim that women in our own society must embrace traditions that arose thousands of years ago — indeed, we are proud that we have no such traditions. Isn’t it condescending, then, to treat Indian and Chinese women [for example] as bound by the past in ways that we are not? (SSJ: 37).

By the same token, her capabilities approach does not neglect historical and cultural difference. It operates from a ‘reasonable pluralism’ that recognises ‘common needs, problems, and capacities, but [which] also reminds us that each person and group faces these problems in a highly concrete context’(SSJ: 47). In this way, the capabilities approach satisfies both universalist and particularist demands at the same time. Based on the concept of individual choice, it would ‘build new types of community’ (SSJ: 48-49) that would ensure a flowering of ‘practical reasoning…the political liberties, and…employment’ as ways to ‘opportunity and empowerment’ (SSJ: 49-50). ‘No mere parochial Western ideology,’ Nussbaum asserts, ‘[these liberal commitments] expres[s] the joy most people have in using their own bodies and minds’ (SSJ: 11).

How could such laudable goals of liberal internationalism mutate into conservative nationalism, as I claim? To begin, Nussbaum explicitly places her capabilities approach within a statist framework. As an instrument of public policy, it serves to enhance the ability ‘of citizens to perform various important functions’ (SSJ: 42, my emphasis). Why this emphasis on citizens? Because they are not ‘passive’ recipients of change but actively ‘shape their own lives’ (SSJ: 46). Indeed, Nussbaum imbues citizenship with the freedom and dignity to make choices. Towards this end, ‘[p]olitics has an urgent role to play here, getting citizens the tools they need, both to choose at all and to have a realistic option of exercising the most valuable functions…’ (SSJ: 46). But what if one believes that one’s society/state already provides the right infrastructure for a happy, fulfilled citizenry — only, external sources are obstructing, distorting, or perverting it? In this case, one could reason plausibly that citizens have a right to exercise their choice by ridding society/state of these externally-derived problems. It is not hard, then, to conceive of how this programme of activist politics for reform could turn into one of protecting the status quo and other conservative goals, especially when placed within a context of dichotomised Self/Other relations.

On choice, Nussbaum sidesteps the issue of economic distributive justice to target tradition as the primary obstacle to complete personhood:

[T]he capability approach maintains that resources have no value in themselves, apart from their role in promoting human functioning. It therefore directs the planner to inquire into the varying needs individuals have for resources and their varying abilities to convert resources into functioning. In this way, it strongly invites a scrutiny of tradition as one of the primary sources of such unequal abilities (SSJ: 34).

For this reason, all regressive cultural traditions should be attacked and dismantled. It so happens that she believes most of these regressive traditions to proliferate in the third-world. As noted above, Nussbaum proclaims that we Western women are not shackled to thousand-year-old traditions (putting aside, for the moment, that Nussbaum’s own adherence to Aristotelian logic reflects a thousand-year-old tradition 11 ) — ‘indeed, we are proud that we have no such traditions’. We would not tolerate them for ourselves, so why are they acceptable to our third-world sisters? The italics highlight Nussbaum’s unreflexive presumption of who we are. Clearly, to her, a Western woman could not be, simultaneously, a third-world subject who is not just bound by but committed to millennial-old traditions.

Virtual Territory and the Liberal Metropole. Virtually, then, Nussbaum territorialises her (Western, liberal) metropole. It designates who ‘belongs’ (i.e., has the right ideas and can instruct others) and who doesn’t (i.e., must change their ideas). Though Nussbaum disdains any merit placed on the ‘contingency of birth location’ (SSJ: 7), she nevertheless polices the borders of her liberal universe vigilantly. In ‘Judging Other Cultures: The Case of Genital Mutilation’ (Chapter 4, SSJ) , Nussbaum systematically reasons why it is appropriate for an upper-middle class, Western, Jewish woman to judge various classes of African and Muslim women on their practice of female genital mutilation (FGM). I won’t rehash the debate here, either about FGM or the call to judgment about other cultures. Provisionally, I agree with Nussbaum that, as moral beings, we have an obligation to protest injustice whenever and wherever we encounter it. But protesting an injustice presupposes an understanding of it which, in turn, presupposes communication across cultures. Nowhere in this chapter, though, does Nussbaum consider how we might understand or communicate cross-culturally so that we may have the authority to judge others. She only emphasises the right to judgment.

Saviours vs Victims, Subjects vs Objects. In discussing FGM, Nussbaum underscores the violence that inheres in this procedure. Typically, a group of adult women would forcibly hold down a female child as young as 4 or 5 years old to cut, with a razor, most or part of her clitoris (SSJ: 123). Why do these women do it? After all, they themselves have undergone this painful operation and suffer from its lifelong ill-effects. Are they simply irrational? No, Nussbaum assures us, they are eminently convertible — if only they had the right education, access to employment, and appropriate norms. ‘These facts suggest limits to the notions of consent and choice, even as applied to the mothers or relatives who perform the operation, who may not be aware of the extent of resistance to the practice in their own and relevantly similar societies’ (SSJ: 123-124). Put differently, Nussbaum cannot conceive of these women as having any self-awareness, despite being recipients of the practice and its historical legacy to them as women. In seeking to help them, Nussbaum simply transfers third-world women from being inchoate objects of tradition to, now, liberalism.

For Nussbaum, only a longterm, loving relationship — as in marriage — can provide a means of truly knowing or communicating with another human being. She cites, for example, the nuanced intimacy between Mr and Mrs Ramsay in Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse. A depressive, Mrs Ramsay nonetheless attempts to cheer up her husband. He, in turn, gives her due time and space despite being a needy, self-centred personality. It is this kind of emotional generosity, the giving of oneself to another, that allows for ‘knowledge of other minds’:

The entire pattern of the marriage is the necessary background…As fine readers of one another’s words, gestures, and actions, the Ramsays have clearly gotten beyond the crudeness of everyday speech as a medium of communication and have also come to a refined understanding of the differences in the personal meanings with which each invests words and gestures….They surmount [problems of shame, power seeking, sheer need for hiddeness] to the extent that they do…simply by making a continual patient effort to be a certain sort of person in relation to one another, to be willing to put aside shame or pride, to be willing to use the power of marriage generously rather than manipulatively, to be willing to allow their privacy to be qualified by the needs of another (SSJ: 371).

Nussbaum wishes that we could extend this kind of intimate knowing to ‘an ethical norm’ (SSJ: 372). It might be possible, she adds, ‘given different upbringing and different expectations on the part of the two partners’ (SSJ: 372).

Sexual Objectification. Short of this, however, Nussbaum permits a certain type of objectification to occur between individuals under highly-specified circumstances. Sexual objectification, 12 she suggests, may stimulate a special sense of joy and pleasure between two partners. Without endangering their mutual esteem and dignity in all other respects, the lovers may agree to being objectified during the brief interval of sexual intercourse. Again, Nussbaum relies on literature to convey her point. Lady Chatterley and her lover, Mellor, exemplify how joyful sexual objectification can be when it is (1) absent of instrumentalisation whereby ‘the objectifier treats the object as a tool of his or her purposes’ (O: 257), (2) the objectification is symmetrical and mutual, (3) surrender of autonomy and agency are joyous and voluntary, (4) enormous trust exists between the two partners, (5) loss of one’s subjectivity in the moment of love-making nevertheless involves concern for the partner ‘whose states mean so much for [one’s] own’ (O: 276), and (6) a ‘personali[sed]’ and ‘individuali[sed]’ fungibility of one’s partner for his or her bodily parts can be non-dehumanising (O: 276).

This sort of ‘Lawrentian de-individuation’, Nussbaum claims, ‘involves…a certain sort of porousness of boundaries that can border on violability’ (O: 279). For this reason,

some narrative depictions of sadomasochistic activity do plausibly attribute to its consensual form a kind of Lawrentian character, in which the willingness to be vulnerable to the infliction of pain, in some respects a sharper stimulus than pleasure, manifests a more complete trust and receptivity than could be found in other sexual acts (O: 280).

Nussbaum adds that, in Mellor’s case, his objectification of Connie Chatterley is that much purer given his ‘profound indifference to the worldly signs of prestige’ (O: 284). 13 From this, Nussbaum surmises that his objectification of Connie Chatterley ‘is quite different from commodification (in my vocabulary, instrumentalization/ownership)’ (O: 284). Nussbaum concludes that objectification under these highly restricted, personalised circumstances ‘can be all right, or even quite wonderful in the way that Lawrence suggests’:

In a closely related way, it may at times be splendid to treat the other person as passive, or even inert. Emotional penetration of boundaries seems potentially a very valuable part of sexual life, and some forms of physical boundary-penetration also, though it is less clear which ones these are (O: 290).

Aside from its insistent romanticism, 14 the problem with such objectification is its impact on society as a whole without providing any mechanisms for societal restraint or responsibility. Far from ‘joyous[ness]’ or a ‘porousness border[ing] on violability’, objectification (whether sexual or otherwise) replays good old-fashioned racism, sexism, and the like. As the next section will show, Jörg Haider draws on such prejudices to call forth an activist programme of politics and reform for contemporary Austria.


Haider’s Conservative Nationalism:

Naked Hegemony

Reformist Politics, Democratic Choice, and the State. Haider’s FPÖ is all about making choices, inspiring an activist citizenship, improving the state, building new communities, recognising common needs/problems/capacities, righting wrongs, and rejecting cultural relativism for an universal standard of the Self. Indeed, the FPÖ party programme shares many of the principles and ideals articulated by Nussbaum in SSJ. The FPÖ’s party platform begins with the affirmation that ‘Freedom is the most precious possession people have’ (PAFP: 2). Like Nussbaum’s emphasis on capabilities, it exhorts Austrians to value ‘self-determination’ (PAFP: 1) so that they could ‘undertake essential duties in the service of the people, homeland and the state’ (PAFP: 3). ‘Establishing just opportunities’, the party states, ‘does not mean egalitarianism but it means rather an offer that could be taken up by the personal decision of the individual. However, this decision presumes that the basic needs of life will be covered’ (PAFP: 25). Echoing Nussbaum’s Kantian commitments, the FPÖ swears allegiance to the notion that individuals should be treated as ends, not means: ‘Human beings have their meaning within themselves; so the right to exist, health and dignity cannot be calculated on the basis of their use value’ (PAFP: 4). As with Nussbaum’s targeting of oppressive traditions, the FPÖ seeks ‘an open, pluralistic community’ which ‘rules out all forms of discrimination or, even worse, oppression resulting from certain values or political attitudes’ (PAFP: 4). 15

The first tradition to topple is that of Austria’s party-controlled sinecures. A kind of ‘political apartheid’ (SRSF: 3), the Red-Black ‘proporz’ system allows the socialist SPÖ and conservative ÖVP parties to divy up the nation’s resources between them, ranging from housing to education to employment. 16 In contrast, the FPÖ offers itself as a democratic, third party alternative. Note this pulsating message of self-empowerment, self-rejuvenation, and self-liberation by Haider:

Austrian voters have had enough of being tyrannised by mediocre party officials in a system dominated by "proporz"and party membership cards.

Austrian voters have had enough of a government that continually demands flexibility and a willingness to change in a globalised world, while the political structures in the country have remained rigid, unmoveable and hostile to change.

Austrian voters have had enough of having to obey Maastricht orders from Brussels themselves, sometimes in the form of irresponsible social cut-backs, while the government lacks any austerity, modesty or even sense of perspective where its own affairs are concerned (SRSF: 3).

Austrian Territorial Integrity within a Christian-Germanic Metropole Self. All this emphasis on the Self invariably leads to articulations of an Austrian cultural chauvinism. The Austrian Self, according to the FPÖ, is implicitly white and explicitly Christian and Germanic. It embraces the German language as ‘[t]he mother tongue [which] is the result of biographic and family characteristics and is the language in which we dream, feel and think’ (PAFP: 33). Not suprisingly, the FPÖ rejects multiculturalism. ‘The task of society and the state is to preserve this cultural heritage and to protect regional cultural identities which is in stark contast to all efforts to level culture down or to decree a multi-culture — goals we decisively reject’ (PAFP: 33). Towards this end, the FPÖ has singled out artists, writers, and other critical intellectuals as those who should not receive state funding for their ‘subversive’ activities.

More recently, the Austrian sense of Self includes membership in the European Union (EU). But, again, certain others jeopardise this European consensus given their poor levels of economic development or unassimilated cultural identity. For this reason, the EU should insist that candidate states ‘raise their social, legal and environmental standards as far as possible to EU levels’ before granting admittance (CE: 3). Without enforcement of such standards, ‘massive efforts to standardize and level down [in the EU may be] to the detriment of Austria’s intellectual and cultural substance’ (PAFP: 5). 17

The FPÖ’s priority remains Austria’s territorial integrity (‘Austria First!’). This requires two simultaneous moves of self-protection. One is directed externally, against ‘international speculators and multinational firms, whether of the state, or of international semi-state institutions’ that would treat Austria as a ‘plaything’ (PAFP: 3). A second, focuses on internal trends, particularly those that threaten Austria’s white, Christian, Germanic foundation:

The world order formed by Christianity and the ancient world is the most important intellectual foundation of Europe…But these foundations are endangered by different streams of thought. The increasing fundamentalism of radical Islam which is penetrating Europe, as well as hedonistic consumption, aggressive capitalism, increasing occultism, pseudo-religious sects and an omnipresent nihilism threaten the consensus of values which is in danger of getting lost…Therefore, the FPÖ supports religious instruction in state schools…(PAFP: 9). 18


Natives vs immigrants, Austria vs EU. The FPÖ proposes better policing of Austria’s borders to regulate who belongs and who doesn’t. ‘This also serves as a means of crime prevention since experience shows that illegal immigration is connected with an importation of crime’(PAFP: 21). The party platform announces that ‘Austria is not a country of immigrants’ (PAFP: 24). Regarding thousands of Turks, Yugoslavians, Polish, Czech, and Hungarians who work and live in Austria, the FPÖ recommends that they identify with their proper ethnic group:

The Austrian law on ethnic groups lists as subjects to be protected the individual historically settled (autochthonous) ethnic groups, whereby the judiciary logically presumes that the overwhelming majority of Austrians belong to the German ethnic group…every citizen has the right to decide on his own to which ethnic group he wants to be assigned according to his identity. But he only can derive subjective rights from his attachment to an ethnic tradition concerning the historic indigenous ethnic groups (PAFP: 7).

Proper ethnic identification naturally leads to proper repatriation. This line of reasoning pertains especially to the approximately 100,000 Bosnian refugees in Austria whom the FPÖ seeks to return to their ‘homelands’:

Austria has to give asylum to people who are persecuted for racist, religious or political reasons, if they do not come to Austria through a secure third country. Every persecuted person has the right to profess his own ethnic tradition and to return to his homeland, especially the numerous displaced persons, driven out of their countries who have been denied their basic right to a homeland by violence and expulsion in the course of the tragic events of the last decades. They do not lose this fundamental right and keep the right of return to their homelands (PAFP: 8).

Social Objectification. Social objectification follows from these cultural, linguistic, and geographical distinctions between natives vs immigrants, Austrians vs Europeans. Ever alert to economic opportunities, the FPÖ advocates a policy of temporary, contract work for foreigners. But do not mistake these Gastarbeiters (guest workers) for one’s own, the party warns. ‘Those who expect patriotism and a love of their country from the citizens of this country’, Haider has declared, ‘should not degrade them to strangers in their own country in existential questions such as immigration’ (SRSF: 3).

Relatedly, the FPÖ — like Nussbaum — sees the family as the ultimate refuge. The FPÖ, though, is less concerned with husband-wife intimacy than with its product, children. A large family would not only ensure future generations of the Austrian Self, it would also decrease the country’s reliance on foreign workers. To encourage a higher birth rate, the FPÖ proposes generous subsidies such as kinder cheques (children’s cheques) 19 and pension funds that would compensate women for their time and labour spent on child-rearing (PAFP: 28). Just as the FPÖ values stay-at-home Moms, so it wants to support stay-at-work Dads. Accordingly, the FPÖ promises to reduce subsidies and cut taxes. Given that subsidies cannot be simultaneously increased and decreased, the FPÖ programme invariably means returning women to an earlier, iconic representation as ‘private’ breeders for and caretakers of the nation (Yuval-Davis and Anthias, 1989), and men as its ‘public’ providers and protectors. 20

Indeed, parallels between the Haider’s conservative nationalism and Nussbaum’s liberal internationalism become more apparent when we juxtapose the FPÖ’s ‘Contract with Austria’ with the capabilities approach. 21


Table A
Contract with Austria The Capabilities Approach
We Promise More Democracy. The capabilities approach promises to produce activist citizens who make choices.
We Promise More Freedom. Having choices means having freedom.
We Promise to Safeguard Freedom of Opinion. The capabilities approach safeguards the freedom of women to dissent from oppressive, cultural traditions.
We Promise More Justice. The capabilities approach provides greater justice for victimised women by converting them to liberal internationalism.
We Promise More Control. The capabilities approach offers real norms, not fake subversion.
We Promise to Abolish Privilege. Down with oppressive third-world, millennial-old, patriarchal traditions.
We Promise to Safeguard Austria’s Position as an Attractive Business Location. The capabilities approach advocates empowerment through capitalist self-help.
We Promise to Give Priority to the Security of the Austrians. The capabilities approach prioritises the security of (third-world) women.
We Promise not to let Austria Become a Country of Immigration. The capabilities approach promises not to let women become polluted with third-world, millennial-old, patriarchal traditions.
We Will Make Sure that Austria does not Lose More Rights to the EU. The capabilities approach will make sure that women will not lose more rights to third-world, millennial-old, patriarchal traditions.

In short, both programmes offer compensatory schemes to turn losers into winners. Nussbaum’s capabilities approach aims to help third-world women enter the modernisation game; while Haider’s FPÖ promises to help Austria’s ‘little people’ play it better. In so doing, each is willing to overlook the hegemonic means used to achieve their emancipatory end.

The point of this discussion, though, is not to decide whether the FPÖ’s recommendations are good or not for Austria. Nor is it to debate whether third-world women, indeed, suffer from their cultural traditions and would benefit from external interventions. The point, rather, is to show how Nussbaum’s feminist agenda — which she declares as ‘internationalist, humanist, liberal, concerned with the social shaping of preference and desire, and concerned with sympathetic understanding’ — can mutate into Haider’s patriarchal programme that is nationalist, ideological, conservative, concerned with the social imposition of preference and desire, and consumed with Self/Other dichotomies.

For instance, Nussbaum has little sense of context in speech or communication. She claims that third-world women unreservedly seek liberal-internationalist conversion to gain education, find employment, obtain credit, feed their families, and so on. However, she fails to recognise that an established context mediates her interactions with ‘third-world’ women — especially poor, illiterate ones faced with a well-off, Western woman who wishes to help them. Why wouldn’t they, under the circumstances, tell this Western woman what she wants to hear? Even if they were sincere, does this mean that they want to discard all local traditions to convert to Western liberal internationalism so that they, in effect, could be more like her? Those very same Chinese feminists whom Nussbaum cites as examples of a new, internationalist mode of thinking would be the first to denounce her type of intervention as Western hegemony or neoimperialism if it uprooted, for example, Confucian relations of filial piety between parents and children.

This lack of self-reflection becomes especially dangerous when considering Nussbaum’s own criteria for ‘basic, human flourishing’. Though she intends this list as a purposive ideal, it could just as plausibly turn into an evaluative measure. Insurance companies, in particular, may be interested in applying this standard of human ‘flourishing’ to determine coverage for expensive surgical procedures for certain types of patients. Hospitals could use a similar logic in their decisionmaking. 22 Similarly, social agencies, schools, employers, and other institutions could use this list to discriminate against those who do not qualify for a ‘flourishing’ life according to Nussbaum’s criteria and, therefore, be denied access to valuable, scarce resources. For example, if one does not have the capacity to ‘play’, express ‘emotion’, or engage in ‘imagination’ — as some autistic children — then would society have due justification to terminate their lives on the basis that they cannot ‘flourish’? 23 Even if such nightmare scenarios are just that, 24 this same kind of restrictive reasoning may be — is being — applied to culturally-alien Others, as we see with some policies of the FPÖ.

This returns us to the imperialism scale of hegemony. Table B summarises our comparison of imperialism with Nussbaum’s capabilities approach and Haider’s party platform.


Table B
Imperialism Nussbaum’s Capabilities Approach Haider’s FPO Policies
State-centrism The capabilities approach is an instrument of public policy; a ‘good’state depends on ‘good’ citizens who are able to make choices. ‘Austria First!’
Politics as primary Choice means political action and change to save third-world women from oppressive cultural traditions; the goal of feminist theorising is political reform. Choice means opting for a third alternative instead of the old Red-Black ‘proporz’ system that has stymied Austria.
Territorial claims Virtual territorialisation of who ‘belongs’ (i.e., has the right ideas and can instruct others) and who doesn’t (i.e., must change ideas) Territorial integrity and sovereignty of Austria, vis-à-vis the EU as well as immigrants, refugees, and other foreigners.
Metropole-directed development Right to judge other cultures; supremacy of (Western) liberal norms of personhood and development Right to expel others; assertion of a Christian, European, and Germanic-speaking identity for Austrians.
Coloniser vs Colonised Universalists vs relativists, saviors vs victims natives vs immigrants, law-abiding citizens vs criminals, Austrians vs Europeans
Objectification Sexual objectification: ‘a wonderful part of sexual life’ ‘de-individuation’ during sexual intercourse where one’s partner may be treated as a body parts Social objectification: a necessary part of social life? ‘de-individuation’ of not only foreigners for their body parts as workers, but also women’s body parts for the nation’s reproduction



Modernity’s Need for Postmodern Subversion

This paper aims not to discredit Martha Nussbaum’s intention to enable a better life for many who do not have it. But neither can we ignore the implicit hegemony underlying her liberal internationalism, particularly in light of her own emphasis on democracy and freedom of choice. Our question, then, becomes: How do we retain Nussbaum’s noble ideals without resorting to hegemony?

This is when, perhaps, Nussbaum’s liberal internationalism could benefit from a moment of Butlerian performative subversion. It helps the Self to acknowledge, at least, the existence of alternative subjectivities — a critical failure in Nussbaum’s liberal internationalism. Let me demonstrate by way of an anecdote. While researching the British Library’s East India Company archives, I came across a letter written in the 1840s by a young Englishman to his family. He was en route to a post in India with his brother. In his letter, the young man recalls a ‘droll’ incident aboard ship. Upon seeing the Union Jack flapping brightly in the wind, the author’s brother enthused: ‘The flag never sets!’ The ‘native’ guard on duty apparently did not understand. He responded, ‘No, sahib, we lower it every day’. Ho, ho, chortled the author, what a joke!

Perhaps the guard, indeed, made an innocent remark. Moreover, it was so trivial a gesture that it did not seem to affect the brothers at all. They blithely continued with their imperialistic adventures. But if we take this incident as a moment of Butlerian performative subversion, we may realise that it is the pair of English brothers who did not understand. The guard’s remark, innocent or not, chipped away at the mighty institution of British imperialism by the very fact that it revealed at least two ways of seeing the Union Jack: as a symbol of British power and supremacy over other lands and peoples, and as a piece of cloth that is raised and lowered from a pole every day. From this wedge in consciousness, the ‘native’ retains a subjectivity that extends beyond being a mere servant of the British empire. With this one remark, he effectively asserts a ‘moral equality’ with his colonial masters that lays the foundation for future declarations of independence, democracy, and human dignity.Thus we see how a seemingly random, ineffectual act of Butlerian performative subversion saves the day for Nussbaum’s cherished modernity.

From this basis, we may embark on a further extension: not only recognising but learning from the Other. But that would mean an entirely different story for our late-modern times.



Note 1: See (Agathangelou and Ling, 1997).  Back.

Note 2: In the 3 October 1999 election, the FPÖ received 27% of all votes; the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), 25%; and the Austrian Socialist Party (SPÖ), 33%. The Green Party (DG) received approximately 7%. Historically, the FPÖ included two factions: free-marketeers and traditionalists. But in 1986, the free marketeers (‘true liberals’) broke off from the FPÖ to form their own party, the Liberal Forum (LIF). The LIF received approximately 4% of total votes in the last election.  Back.

Note 3: Nussbaum covers this topic in SSJ but discusses it more specifically in (Nussbaum, 1994).  Back.

Note 4: Indeed, Haider announced his resignation as head of the FPÖ on 29 February 2000. Many believe, however, that this is simply a tactical move to prepare for his launch to the Chancellorship of Austria. The current Vice-Chancellor, Ms. Riess-Passer (also curiously nicknamed ‘the king’s cobra’ [koenigskobra]) will replace Haider as head of the FPÖ.  Back.

Note 5: The latter article is reprinted in SSJ but I cite from the earlier version in this paper.  Back.

Note 6: These page numbers are my own counting of her article, reformatted to fit on A4-size paper, since The New Republic (TNR) does not provide such on its webpage.  Back.

Note 7: See, (TNR, 1999).  Back.

Note 8: Nussbaum distinguishes ‘bodily health and integrity’ from ‘bodily integrity’ in terms of protection from illness in the former and violence, in the latter.  Back.

Note 9: The first five features come from Jan Nederveen Pieterse’s (2000) scale for imperialism as compared to globalisation. The sixth element, objectification, is my own addition. It seems a necessary correlate to enactments of coloniser vs colonised.  Back.

Note 10: Although, Haider claims to have integrated successfully the Slovene minority into his province, Carinthia.  Back.

Note 11: See, for example, (Nussbaum, 1993).  Back.

Note 12: Nussbaum identifies sexual objectification by seven characteristics: instrumentality, denial of autonomy, inertness, fungibility, violability, ownership, and denial of subjectivity (Nussbaum, 1995: 257).  Back.

Note 13: I find this qualification curiously naïve. After all, what made Connie Chatterley so appealing to the rough-hewn, dialect-speaking Mellor were it not precisely because she was the lady of the manor? Similarly, what made Mellor so attractive to a hot-house orchid like Connie Chatterley were it not for the forbidden pleasure of crossing rigid class lines?  Back.

Note 14: Why is objectification necessary, in the first place, to achieve ‘de-individuation’ through love? One could plausibly imagine de-individuation through the fusion of two beings, body and soul, in the act of making love. Nussbaum, however, has to resort to objectification to reach de-individuation, given her liberal commitment to the ‘moral equality’ of individuals. How else can ‘moral equals’ enter, so to speak, one another?  Back.

Note 15: Here, the FPÖ is primarily targeting socialism and the SPÖ.  Back.

Note 16: Schools, for example, must demonstrate an equal distribution of ‘red’ vs ‘black’ affiliation. Hence, a teacher who may be registered as ‘red’ may not be hired at a ‘black’ school, and vice versa, regardless of qualifications. Personal communication with Brigitte Holzner.  Back.

Note 17: For example, some of Austria’s environmental controls are stricter than the EU’s. Consequently, many fear that the EU’s lax standards will pollute Austria for capitalist gain to be enjoyed outside the country.  Back.

Note 18: Though this call for religious instruction in schools may be a tactical ploy to attract ÖVP supporters, it is still a move to ‘standardise’ Austria and Austrians.  Back.

Note 19: ‘Every mother should receive ATS 5,700 per month (approximately US$500) until her child is 6 years oldŠNo abolition of subsidies for nurseries, no reduction in the number of nursery teachers, no reduction of family allowanceŠ[There would be the] creation of a fund for women and families to finance the "children’s cheques"’(100DP: 4). Married women may collect the kinder cheques until their child is six years old. Single mothers, however, would have it for only two years.  Back.

Note 20: Indeed, the FPÖ has proposed ‘integrating’ the Ministry for Women’s Affairs/Emancipation into other branches of government since it has only two members. Additionally, it has cut the budget for women’s issues by 40%.  Back.

Note 21: I omit those promises concerned with budgetary or bureaucratic issues. These are: ‘We Promise to Make Savings’, ‘We Promise to Make Savings by Reducing Bureaucracy’, ‘We Promise to Reduce the Size of the Government. Even Wealthy Switzerland only has Seven Ministers’, ‘We Promise to Reduce Subsidies’, ‘We Promise to Cut Taxes’, ‘We promise to Safeguard all Pension Claims Which Have Already Been Earned’, ‘We Promise to Relieve the Tax Burden for Families’, ‘We Promise to Safeguard the Health System’, ‘We Promise to Transfer Housing Association Flats to the Ownership of the Tenants’, ‘We Promise to Improve Environmental Protection and Prevent Outside Use of Our Water Reserves’.  Back.

Note 22: Some states in the US are already experimenting with ‘scaling’ priorities according to the probability of saving a patient’s life and the procedure’s cost.  Back.

Note 23: For such a critique of the capabilities approach along such lines, see (McMahan, 1996).  Back.

Note 24: Although, we know that such social policies were enacted in the 1930s-1940s by the Nazis against the ‘unfit’ (handicapped, homosexuals, Jews) and in the form of eugenics experiments conducted by Japanese imperialists in what was then Manchukuo, now northern China.  Back.