The Appeal of Fascism

The struggle between the forces of fascism and the forces of emancipation is one between two fundamentally opposed responses to the crises of capitalism. Fascism views the crisis as an anomaly that one might repair, while emancipatory politics sees the crisis as the moment at which capitalism reveals the truth of the distortion lurking in its own structure. The appeal of fascism is almost always stronger because it offers the assurance that a neutral background exists and enable us to avoid confronting the trauma of a political decision. But fascism preserves and extends the very crisis that it promises to ameliorate. (88-89)

Todd McGowan | Capitalism and Desire


The Genius of the System

Though capitalist subjects experience continuing dissatisfaction when they attain each new and disappointing object, they find satisfaction through the repetition triggered by the perpetual search for the next commodity. This dynamic is crucial to capitalism’s staying power. If it just offered dissatisfaction with the promise of future satisfaction, subjects would not tolerate the capitalist system for as long as they have. But capitalism does provide authentic satisfaction — the satisfaction of loss — in the guise of dissatisfaction. What appears as a dissatisfying movement forward from commodity to commodity is actually a satisfying repetition of the loss of the object. The fantasy of acquisition offers the promise of escaping from the trauma of subjectivity while leaving the subject wholly ensconced within it. By offering satisfaction in the form of dissatisfaction, capitalism gives us respite from the trauma of subjectivity without obviating the satisfaction it delivers. This is the genius of the system. (39)

Todd McGowan | Capitalism and Desire: The Psychic Costs of Free Markets

Capitalism Fits

Despite appearances, capitalism is not the result of human nature. The system’s apologists who insist on this point do so in order to sustain an aura of inevitability around it. But nonetheless, beyond the bare socio-economic agenda of its proponents, we can understand why this association arises. Associating capitalism with human nature is an ideological gesture, but the feeling that capitalism fits our mode of desiring is not wholly ideological. Capitalism’s emergence and its psychic appeal are related to the nature of human subjectivity, though this subjectivity is itself unnatural, a function not of natural processes but of a disjunction from the natural world. Capitalism succeeds as it does by playing into the alienation from nature that occurs through signification. Though the development of capitalism was not necessary — one can imagine a world in which it didn’t emerge — one can nonetheless understand its rise and staying power in terms of the structure of the psyche. We are, one might say, psychically disposed to invest ourselves in the capitalist system. Capitalism succeeds because it capitalizes on our status as unnatural beings. (22)

Todd McGowan | Capitalism and Desire: The Psychic Costs of Free Markets

No Future

There is, in other words, no future to realize except to accede to the exigencies that are already written into the ruling capitalist system. The point of critique is not promissory, not futural, but wholly immanent.

[…] There is no deeper or more authentic satisfaction that will overcome the antagonisms of society or the failures of subjectivity, despite what anticapitalist revolutionaries have traditionally promised. We do not need the belief in a future replete with a deeper satisfaction in order to reject capitalism, if that is what we decide to do.

The alternative to capitalism inheres within capitalism, and the revolutionary act is one of recognizing capitalism’s internal and present future. […]

Capitalism functions as effectively as it does because it provides satisfaction for its subjects while at the same time hiding the awareness of this satisfaction from them. If we recognized that we obtained satisfaction from the failure to obtain the perfect commodity rather than from a wholly successful purchase, we would be freed from the psychic appeal of capitalism. That is not to say that we would never buy another commodity, but just that we would do so without a psychic investment in the promise of the commodity, which is already, in some sense, a revolution. (13-14)

Todd McGowan | Capitalism and Desire: The Psychic Costs of Free Markets


Against Revolutionary Hope

This is the problem with the insistence on revolutionary hope: it partakes of the logic that it tires to contest. Revolutionary hope represents an investment in the structure of the promise that defines capitalism. As a result, it is never as revolutionary as it believes itself to be. Though obviously the act of promising precedes the onset of a capitalist economy, once this economy emerges, the promise enters completely into the capitalist logic. To take solace in the promise of tomorrow is to accept the sense of dissatisfaction that capitalism sells more vehemently than it sells any commodity. As long as one remains invested in the promise as such, one has already succumbed to the fundamental logic of capitalism.

[…] As long as radical politics operates with the belief that revolution will remove some of the prevailing repression, it accepts the ruling idea of capitalism and buys into the fundamental capitalist fantasy. No revolution can transform dissatisfaction into satisfaction, but this is how revolution has been conceived throughout the entirety of the capitalist epoch. The revolutionary act has to be thought differently. The revolutionary act is simply the recognition that capitalism already produces the satisfaction that it promises. (12-13)

Todd McGowan | Capitalism and Desire: The Psychic Costs of Free Markets