The Guillotine: Second Time as Meme


Justin Smith over at his website:

I knew another of my periodic retreats from the public expression of political opinions had arrived when, contacted by a certain French media outlet for my views on the recent electoral victories of the Front National, I muttered something about how I've been busy writing about animals recently, and then quoted Kropotkin to the effect that the animals, unlike us, seem to get by just fine without holding elections at all.

The name I've just invoked should serve as a guide to the sort of 'deviations' I am about to express, relative to what is increasingly a party-line view among young metropolitan leftists and their hangers-on in fashion and lifestyle.

Well, it's hard to really talk about 'views' in the age of memes. Surely you've seen it by now: the ironized, memified representation of the guillotine, often accompanied by slogans announcing that this is the fate awaiting the CEOs of Goldman Sachs, that 'the French knew how to deal with the 1%', etc. Likely the most iconic representation of that execution device in the past few years is the one presented on the cover of the Spring, 2013, issue of Jacobin Magazine, showing it as the 'Giljotin': an IKEA-bought, home-assembled, mass-produced piece of furniture.

I am not an admirer of the original Jacobins, and for this reason I cannot support any media venture that derives its name from that movement. The magazine has on occasion shown itself to be a lucid defender of truth and justice, as for example in a recent defense of serious social-scientific critique of capitalism, against the frivolous academic-blogger culture's displacement of our attention to the all-pervasiveness of gender, and that same culture's vain dream of fixing the associated problems by compelling everyone, pretty much, to just watch their language, and to make regular public performances of preparedness for privilege-checking, of 'radical humility'. “Give me a card-carrying brocialist over one of these oily 'allies' any day” is surely among the most refreshingly exasperated pleas from the left I've read in a long, long time.

But still, shame on Jacobin for helping to turn a murder weapon into an icon of urban radical fashion. I understand that from a certain point of view it is the same desire for 'realness' that motivates them both to publish lovely screeds against silly liberal moralizing and dead-end identity-mongering, on the one hand, and on the other hand to insist that what they are really pushing for is revolution, and that revolution means heads are going to roll, etc. But in truth I strongly suspect that most educated urban twenty-somethings who flirt with the symbol do so in the secret hope and expectation that it is never in fact going to come to that, that they will never be called on to pull the lever on a Goldman Sachs CEO, or on the small child of a Goldman Sachs CEO (nipping inheritance structures in the bud), or on a former comrade now accused of harboring too many deviations.

More here.