Hong Kong and Shanghai, January-June 2012.
“Delinking” and Empire by Michael Hardt
Question 1: Indeed, China’s model has achieved spectacular success in terms of economy. However, environmental deterioration has roused the anxiety of the whole nation. In some African countries, due to overexploitation, their dependence upon foreign market and even the spreading of diseases like AIDS, the environment and the overall well-being of people have even deteriorated during the so-called march towards modernity. More and more Chinese people begin to reflect upon the notion of progress, which is believed to be the natural fruit of modernity.+ View Response
Walter Mignolo: First of all, the notion of “progress” is basically related to the “mission civilizatrice” and gained currency in the nineteenth century. However, it can be traced back to the Renaissance. When the US took over from Britain, after WWII, the “progress” was translated into “development.” It is known that Harry Truman in his presidential address of 1949 introduced the word “underdeveloped countries.” That was the justification to start the project of “modernization and development.” Latin America was the first showcase. Africa was in full decolonizing struggle and the US was supporting decolonization to displace Europe in world leadership and to confront the Soviet Union. The ideas of “modernization and development” collapsed in 1968 (the uprising in Beijing, Paris, Prague, Mexico) and since then US started a new project, known now as “neoliberalism”. The first showcase where neoliberalism experimented was Chile, with Augusto Pinochet, after the fall of Salvador Allende. Then came Videla in Argentina, Gonzalo Sanchez de Losada in Bolivia, Menem in Argentina in the 90s. In the middle of all of that, the financial crisis in East Asia and in Russia exploded. A new “development” now was the Neoliberal Doctrine and the Washington Consensus. You can see this as mutation of the colonial matrix in the last attempt of maintaining the project of Westernization (self-defined as globalization and modernity). By the beginning of the twenty-first century it was obvious, although in Latin America this discussion began before; that “progress” and “development” are a dream that cannot be sustained. We analyze (in the project modernity/coloniality) “progress” and “development” as the rhetoric of modernity, which is a rhetoric of salvation in the words of the G7, the World Bank, The European Union and the US. But we, in the project, know that the rhetoric of modernity hides the logic of coloniality: to develop you need to expropriate land, exploit labor, poisoning the fields with transgenic and fumigation to allow the soya beans to grown clean and colorful, while people died of leukemia and cancer; the gaps between rich and poor is growing; Forbes magazine celebrates that in the past decades the number of multi-billionaires increased, many of those are outside Western Europe and the US, where the wealthy were before.
In the meantime, the economic system is collapsing; the political system is engendering all kind of manifestations, which are an awakening of the civil society and the formation of the global political society. The world is in flames, and the world is in flames because it has been built on the chimera of progress and development instead of collaboration and communal peaceful organization of societies. Communal, I mind you, is not communism, which is a Western idea derived from the enlightenment, thus it is not the universal common, but the non-modern communal (neither communism nor the liberal common good or common wealth). The communal is by definition pluriversal, for it doesn’t accept the idea of a “new abstract universal” that will be good for everyone because it is good for me. The communal is the decolonial door opening up to the pluriversal, beyond capitalism and communism. The idea of “progress and development” is what capitalism and communism had in common, they are all part of Western Civilization and what we are witnessing now is the collapse of these ideals. China and many countries in East Asia have followed this path, have appropriated and are following their own path on what Western Civilization achieved, economically and politically (liberalism and communism), and it is confronting the same problems that the West confronted. But since in Asia, Africa, South America and the Caribbean, Central Asia and the Caucasus are the living seeds of non-modern ways of life (notice that I say non-modern and not pre-modern) that have always co existed with modernity, the hope is that the decolonial will take over in all those place. In South America and the Caribbean there is since the sixties a growing and powerful discourse on decolonization. And so it subsists in Africa and in Asia. Briefly, “progress and development” are no longer a desirable horizon of life because they are part of the rhetoric of modernity that carries with it coloniality, that is, expropriation, exploitation, pollutions and death.
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Question 2: The urge to “de-link” is widely felt in most third world countries. What is at issue is that how can this be possible when neo-liberalism has already become the dominant “structure of feeling” in most parts of the world?+ View Response
Walter Mignolo: Two things. Neo-liberalism is now in bankruptcy. You can see it all over the place, in the financial crisis, the end-road to find solutions, the proliferations of unhappy people expressing it all over, organized communities in South America stopping the corporations from destroying the environment and poisoning the lands and the water with transgenic and cyanide in open pit mining. And secondly, we shall not confuse neo-liberalism with market economy and the fetichization of commodities. Certainly, neo-liberalism contributed to that, but neo-liberalism wants a weakened state and a free invisible hand. China, Singapore, Japan are on the contrary, strong states regulating the economy. That is not neo-liberalism and that chiasm is one aspect of dewesternization.
The questions of delinking shall not, on the other hand, be limited to the State and continue to hope that States will do what people want States to do. What we are seeing in the sphere of the States is dewesternization. And that is a form of delinking, delinking from Western scripts and from transnational institutions, like IMF and the World Bank, still controlled by the West but already under heavy scrutiny from the rest of the world. 1
What is surprising in this respect is that the politization of the civil society (you know the civil society was not politicized, it was civil). I was in the Rhodes Public Forum in October of 2011. About 600 scholars, religious figures, officers of the states, journalists, mainly from Russia, India and the Middle East agreed on the failure of the neoliberal doctrine and the Washington Consensus. My panel on “Post-Secularism” was one day but the conference occupied three and a half days. So I attended the opening and closing panels, and several other panels. Among the opening panelist speakers was Johan Galtung. Interestingly enough the consensus was that the neoliberal doctrine and the Washington Consensus have failed. The next week I was in Santo Domingo, in the Biarritz Forum, lead French institutions with the support and collaboration of Latin American and Caribbean countries. More or less the same kind of people and the same amount and about 12 ex-Presidents attended the Forum. There was a consensus that the neo-liberal doctrine and the Washington Consensus failed. So, then, neo-liberalism is no longer the dominant “structure of feeling.” The “structure of feeling” is a growing rage from the politization of the civil society. For what you have in those Fora is nothing else than the civil society at its best, not the political society. Rage and disenchantment was the consensus. They are of course, dewesternizer, nor decolonial or even Marxists. So, what connects the world is capitalism, but not neo-liberalism. The politicized civil society is not denying capitalism; it is denying neo-liberalism. Delinking is first of all an epistemic question: without thinking otherwise is difficult to imagine global futures beyond Western structure of thoughts and structure of feelings (that is, epistemology, ontology and aiesthesis—sensing).
Now, in the same way that we cannot con-fuse economy with capitalism, we cannot con-fuse capitalism with neo-liberalism. China is capitalist, but I will not say for a second that is neo-liberal. That is why Chinese Confucianism is being re-articulated. If you do not re-articulate Confucianism, or something that is in your history, you run the risk of entering into neo-liberalism or being convinced that you have to start with Machiavelli, Locke, Rousseau etc. Chinese leaders and intellectuals need Confucius rather than Milton Friedman, which was the economist behind Reagan-Thatcher duo promoting neo-liberal ideals. Dewesternization is already a way of delinking, not from capitalism but from neo-liberal global design. And dewesternization is the politics of China, of Singapore, of Russia, of Brazil, and not sure yet, but in part at least India. This politico-economic delinking is one aspect of dewesternization.
On the other hand, Dewesternization or Islamization are being, had been, predicated in the sphere of the politico-religious. And this is another form of delinking that could take the form of dewesternization (like in Malaysia and Indonesia) or decoloniality (politico-religious project run by the political society independently from the State). This is also a way of delinking and clearly not following the globalization of Western values. That is Islamism taking charge of the economy. Sure, Indonesia and Chinese capitalism are no better that German or US capitalism, but certainly are not the same. I am not saying that polycentered capitalism is better than monocentered capitalism. I am saying that there is an important difference and we should pay attention to it. “Delinking” is a process, a huge and global process that is happening now at different levels and will continue during the twentieth century, at the same time that forces preventing delinking will continue to operate: that forces is the constant updating of re-westernization as the West “resist” loosing the privileges that enjoyed for such a long time. Re-westernization means to keep total control of the colonial matrix of power. Delinking are processes difficult to see because CNN and CCTV are hiding it with music and colors and the triumphal smile of their program anchors.
So do not expect “delinking” as something that happens at once, by decree or revolution, There are thousands of cases around the world (perfectly silenced by main stream television in the East and the West, Al Jazeera being always the exception), like what is going on now in Argentina: they call it a “pueblada” the getting together of the people (the pueblo) of the town to stop mega-mining and kick out the transnational corporations. Delinking is something that the political society, and we as members of the political society, has to build constantly at different levels. We need a vision of the future, delinking is the first step, but we cannot have a blue print and force everyone to fit the model. We know what happens when that case is presented. “Pueblada” is a manifestation of the political society that carries its own leadership. And they are doing it. That is another clear case of the growing political society. Now what is at stake is no longer improving working conditions and providing job: that is the concern of the IMF and the States. The IMF and the capitalist States want people who live to work, while delinking means that we want a society where people work to live. What is at stake is life, not jobs to the benefit of those who take away and provide jobs. When open pit mining forms lakes of water with cyanide used to extract the metal from the stone, and the people are dying of cancer and leukemia, the problem is not to have a job but to have a life: the life of nature is the life of our bodies. That is the growing global political society. Certainly, banks are big, corporations are transnational, the state works with the corporations and the bank and the media with all of them. It seems like a structure that will never collapse. But think that that structure keeps happy probably one billion of seven billion of people in the planet. And the awareness that our life are at risk because of the organized and legal delinquency ruling in the name of development, is growing. There is much more going on than the mainstream media knows or do not want to know. Depending whether you watch the news or read US of German information, or China or Singapore, you will hear a lot about rewesternization and dewesternization but not about decoloniality. This is being covered by what is now called “self-managed journalism.”
Perhaps it is less visible or not yet possible in East and South Asia. But I do not think so. Delinking means to delink from the magic of the media that keep us glued to what the States and the Corporations do, as if that was the entire world; and from the myth of the expert that takes away the capacity of people to think and have their/own opinion about what the expert hides. It means to delink from education, it means learning to unlearn what have been taught to us in order to relearn. For the expert is a one-dimensional-man who at the same time is ignorant about the larger picture of his or her expertise. The global political society a fourth crucial actor, next to the politization of the civil society, the traditional third actor that now is getting up on its feet due to the degree of aberration we find in the States and the Corporations.
As you can imagine, the map I have drawn above is based on the analytic of the colonial matrix of power and, therefore, is decolonial thinking in action.
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Question 3: In most countries, capitalism has been worshiped as the best solution to all these economical problems. Maybe those developing countries are willing to avoid or even counter the influence of western ideology, but few of them would give up capitalism or market economy as the most efficient way of developing economy. When Partha Chatterjee talks about India’s independence, he points out that one of the strategies is to oppose modernity in the name of modernity. Wang Hui, a Chinese scholar used “the modernity of anti-modernity” to describe the emergency of modernity in China in a similar way. Is this a kind of delinking or can we say that these are also decolonial projects? And can we use decolonialism to theorize the social reality of China? As you know, the situation in China is quite different from that in other third-world countries.+ View Response
Walter Mignolo: There are three points in your question. First, if your goal is development then the best way to do it so far is capitalism. The question is, shall development be the only vision and goal of human conviviality? The second point, when Chatterjee talks about “our modernity” and underlines that our modernity has to be built on one hundred years of British colonization and one hundred years before 1857 based on commerce in India, he is talking about the conditions that leads to “contesting modernities” as I mentioned before, and dewesternization. It is not clear whether decolonial projects will likely keep “modernity” as a goal, since in our view there is no modernity without coloniality. So, while I agree with Chatterjee in his emphasis on delinking from “Western modernity” I do not think that modernity can be pursued without coloniality. Therefore, Chatterjee’s claim as formulated looks like a program for dewesternization. The third point, the position sustained by Wang Hui. In fact, it seems to me that he is very well describing China’s effective dewesternization. The open question is whether there is a difference between the politic of the State and that of the New Left.
When I describe China’s state politics as dewesternization I am already engaged in a decolonial analysis; that is, I am making the distinction between decolonial perspectives that is of my discourse, and dewesternization that is a concept through which East Asian make sense of their own practices and goals. Singaporean Kishore Mahbubani, Dean of the School of Public Policy Lee Kuan Yew elaborated the concept as precisely the politics of accepting development and capitalism but taking your destiny in your own hands. That is precisely what China and Singapore are doing. It seems to me then that Wang Hui’s position coincides with that of Mahbubani. And that is showing as that looking and the changing winds of the world order based on the three major trajectories I have mentioned (rewesternization, dewesternization and decoloniality), makes obsolete the distinction between Left and Right that emerged from the European enlightenment. I would say then that Mahbubani and Hui coincide in the need to dewesternize although they may differ in the way to do it; they coincide in the goals, while they may differ in the methods.
Yes, I know, China is different to most of the ex-Third World countries for many reasons. One of them is its long, lasting and rich history which carries with it ways of thinking and doing. The ways that China embraced capitalism and market economy compatible with a strong State cannot be understood as reproducing Western capitalism and Western communism through Mao Zedong. There was and is something else that is neither Western (neo) liberalism nor Western communism outside of the West. I would not fall into the easy interpretation and explain it by Confucianism. I would say that there is something that is the way Chinese of today make sense of their past, their memories, their own ways of thinking, living and doing. The same way you can explain that deep experience that Western civilization built grounded in Greece and Rome. Similarly, in Africa and the Indigenous nations around the world, there is no a name that explains the persistence of their way of thinking and being. Similar observations we can make through the Islamic world, from the Middle East trough South East Asia: there is something there that is their own and which the Koran is obviously a crucial moment, but I would think it is not all: there was already something built in communal formations that made the Koran needed and possible. So, in that sense, China is different from many Third World countries, but is very similar but very similar to many civilizations in the world that were disavowed and humiliated by the narratives of Western modernities that are coming to term with a period of history that now is being overcome. Dewesternization and decoloniality are two of those wide ranging trajectories. And, interestingly enough, both dewesternization and decoloniality are projects that have much to do with overcoming the Western imperial humiliation, whether you carry the traces of the colonial or the imperial wounds.
So, your question, whether it is possible to analyze and make sense of China politics, nationally and internationally, from a decolonial perspective, my answer is yes. That is what I did in the previous paragraph. Mine was not an analysis following the norms of sociology, economy, political sciences, or anthropology, but was a decolonial interpretation of China’s politics of dewesternization.
Now, another question that could be asked: is it possible to think decolonially in China and to carry on decolonial projects in different walks of life? Certainly it is because for decolonial thinking it is irrelevant whether a people was colonized or not. As I have said several times, China did not escape coloniality and dewesternization and decoloniality are two different responses to coloniality. Dewesternization doesn’t delink from capitalist economy, but delinks in all other spheres of the colonial matrix: who decides about what. Which doesn’t mean also that the one billion plus Chinese will endorse dewesternization: it means that dewesternization is a project and a Chinese response to coloniality whether or not 100% of Chinese will know or accept it. That is an important issue for everybody expecting that when a project is not Western, it shall “represent” all the people. Western Democratic Party system doesn’t mean that all the citizens of France, Germany or the US would agree with the politics of one party. It means also that not all Europeans and US citizens would agree with the project of rewesternization lead by the US and supported by the EU. It means that rewesternization is a Western project, whether it “represents” all citizens or not. So, then, since dewesternization and decoloniality are responses to delinking from the colonial matrix of power, decolonial projects could very well unfold in China. Not necessarily from the government, it is too much to expect at this point. But it should come, if it comes, from the political society. There is no need of public manifestation here, it is a question of beginning to think and act otherwise. Decoloniality is basically an epistemic project with political, economical and ethical implications.
Now let’s go back to the situation you describe through Partha Chatterjee and Wang Hui, and let me say first that I am sympathetic with their views. From what I said before, you can see that I do not fully endorse them. What is important are the issues they are raising, even if you do not agree with the way they frame the issues they are raising. The dilemma “modernity of anti-modernity” is a complex issue but, basically, it is an example of the entanglement and the fact that the imperial force of modernity forces responses that cannot be detached from modernity. So delinking doesn’t mean that you reject modernity and go to the mountain. It doesn’t mean either that you oppose modernity following its logic. That is, that you contest the content but not the logic, that you contest the content but do not change the terms of the conversation. So, what Hui and Chatterjee are pointing out is happening in India, in China, in Latin America, in the Caribbean, in Central Asia, in the Middle East. Briefly, all over the world that had to respond to the ideals of modernity that Western actors and institutions encroached upon them. Some rejected, some embraced it and some embraced modernity but defended their own nationalist interests. None of this is delinking. All of these are examples of imperial/colonial entanglements. “Delinking” are projects whose very beginning and foundations is the theorization of the very idea of “delinking.” Delinking is what the decolonial option is proposing. It means that there is no way out if the terms of the conversations are not changed. As I have been saying, today “delinking” is proceeding in two directions, some times complementary some times confrontational: dewesternization and decoloniality.
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Question 4: I guess, to delink is a project which involves all aspects of the society, that is to say, we should endeavor to delink economically, politically as well as culturally. Facing the prevalent cultural supremacy or hegemony of America, Third World countries are also trying to claim their due place the world cultural arena. Last year, a video show called “Experience China”, which aimed to promote China made its debut on screens at Times Square. Can this be regarded as an attempt to delink culturally?+ View Response
Walter Mignolo:I have not seen “Experience China” but just now I did a search on Google and watch videos shown through China Daily. No, I do not see that video as an attempt to delink. It is the equivalent of videos shown by France, Germany or the US to promote the image of their own country. The difference here is though important: if you see a video of France, Germany or France in China you know that this country had the upper hand on you since the Opium War. When “Experience China” is shown in New York the message is clear: we are back, we are here, and we are here to stay—get use to it. I would even hesitate to interpret it as a message of dewesternization. The video responds to the logic of advertising. What the video is saying is that advertising cultures is no longer a privilege of Western countries. If analyzed, it may have also another important function: to counter the image that New Yorkers and US citizens have of China through the US media. I wouldn’t say that is a dewesternizing act, but I would say that is a consequence of the larger project of dewesternization we are witnessing in China, East and South East Asia.
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Question 5: The world is now being dominated by new forms of power structures, which is also one of the presuppositions of decolonialism. This issue often reminds me of Michael Hardt’s theoretical formation of “empire”. According to him, “empire” is the new political subject, which governs our world. I have just translated one of the most recent articles of Michael Hardt into Chinese and it was well received here in China. What’s your understanding to the power structure of the contemporary world? What do you think of his theoretical formation?+ View Response
Walter Mignolo: I would say that what you call “new forms of power” is nothing other than the mutation of the colonial matrix due to the fact that new actors are disputing its control. Some of them, embracing economic coloniality but disputing the control of the matrix (dewesternization); others by looking at transcending the principles and belief systems that brought the matrix into existence (decoloniality); and finally, the efforts to mutate the matrix to maintain its control (rewesternization; of which Lagarde’s speech mentioned before is a exemplar). What is “new” is not really new; it is the series of mutations that the colonial matrix is going through. In that regard, the decolonial project has a view remarkably different to that of Hardt and Negri. “Empire” as the new political subject governing the world looks to me as the reincarnation of Hegel’s “Spirit”. The only difference is that Spirit was good and Empire is bad. For us, again, what governs the world since the sixteenth century is the colonial matrix of power. This is the decolonial view. Hardt and Negri offer a postmodern view. And there is no way to subsume one into the other, unless you have an imperialist and totalitarian bent to explain everything the way you understand them disregarding how other people think. I would say that Spirit/Empire and the colonial matrix are two explanations coming from different local histories: the local history of Europe the first and the colonial local histories the second.
I needed this sketchy trajectory to respond to this question—the power structure of the contemporary world and what I think about “empire.” Both questions are indeed related. In a nutshell, the thesis is the following: from 1500 to 2000, that is from the European Renaissance to US Neoliberalism a new civilization appeared on the planet, Western Civilization. Western Civilization built its infrastructure, the colonial matrix of power, a complex structure of interrelated domains (the political, the economic, the subjective, the epistemic) that allows for both the building of Europe as the cradle of Western Civilization and the colonization of the non-European world. For five hundred years the colonial matrix of power (coloniality for short) was created, transformed, maintained and managed by Western imperial States (Spain, Portugal, Holland, France, England and the US). And that was possible because knowledge was in the hands of actors, in the archives of institutions and categories of thought that belonged and made it possible to build the idea of Western Civilization. By 2000 it is no longer the case: global conflicts now are around the dispute for the control of the colonial matrix. The global order is capitalist, but the West is not longer calling the shot. If China had followed the instructions of the IMF and the World Bank it would not be what it is now. China delinked, grew economically, gained political force in global decisions, have regained the confidence lost after the humiliation of the Opium War. Those memories are not forgotten by those who were racialized, humiliated and forced to follow rules that they do not wanted to follow because they were not their own rules, be them Chinese, Indians, Africans, Native Americans, Muslims, etc. So in a nutshell: before 1500 the world was polycentric and non-capitalist, from 1500 to 2000 the world became monocentric and capitalist and from 2000 on the world became polycentric and capitalist.
What I think about “Empire”? I already said something above. I would add that it was a consequence of the triumphalist view of neo-liberal end of history; secondly the book (I imagine you refer to the concept as articulated by Hardt and Negri) appeared in 2000 and was written during the years of the neo-liberal euphoria of the end of history and infinite growth. It appeared at that point that indeed the US was that “empire” that has under its wing the European Union, China, India, Brazil, and of course Russia, who was dismembered by the “shock doctrine” (2007) that Naomi Klein analyzed and that Joseph Stiglitz (2000) rendered as “globalization and its discontent.” In my reading, however, those of us who were attentive to the raise of China and East Asia countries, did not believe much either in the neoliberal euphoria or in the post-modern Marxist reading of history provided in the book. If you think in terms of coloniality and colonial matrix of power and began to see that the colonial matrix may soon escape the control of the West, as it was possible to imagine at the end of the 90s, then “empire” is a justifiable reading of Euro-American left but nothing more. At that time, end of the nineteenth century, we were looking at (and I published a lengthy article in Spanish in 2002–Global Coloniality, Capitalism and Epistemic Hegemony–where I analyzed four “models” to understand the present situation: world-system analysis (Wallerstein), network society (Castell), empire (Hardt and Negri) and Modernity/Coloniality (Quijano, Dussel, myself et al). In a later version I added “the clash of Civilizations” (Huntington). The later was a model that runs along the lines of neo-liberalism while the formers were all critical of neoliberalism. Each model told a different story. One of the problems I noticed in Empire is the canonical jump from the Roman Empire to the heart of Europe (France, England, Germany) and then to the US. The very foundation of the modern/colonial world, the sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries, and the Iberian Peninsula, were glossed over– standard blindness among European intellectuals who look at the eighteenth century for the foundation of modernity. So, as I think in terms of options, “empire” is a theoretical option that fits the skin and mentality of Eurocentered intellectuals but that is of not much relevance for those of us who think in terms of modernity/coloniality and the colonial matrix of power. I think in terms of options because the polycentricity of the actual world is also epistemic, so that we can no longer hope for a Pope in Rome who will tell the 7 billion people in the world what is world is like and what to do toward the future. Polycentricity not only means economic politico-economic disobedience to the Western enforcement of the colonial matrix (which is different from “empire”) but it means also epistemic disobedience (I argued this point in a recent article “Epistemic disobedience, independent thought and decolonial freedom, 2009). In a nutshell “empire” is the Euro-US (First World) narrative of the formation of Western Civilization from a post-modern/Marxist perspective, while the “colonial matrix of power” is the South America and Caribbean (Third World) narrative of the formation of Western Civilization from a decolonial perspective.
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