In the early 1990s, one of my wonderful brothers worked on an alternative cultural program on Amsterdam public television called de Hoeksteen. This program, a monthly talk show on current cultural affairs with prominent guests from both the art and political fields, was initiated by the artist Raoul Marroquin and is still going strong today with an informal and reflective flair. Another regular collaborator on the show early on was a provocative character named Martin Bosma, who had studied sociology at the University of Amsterdam in the 1980s and later earned his master’s degree at The New School for Social Research in New York—both places where leftist thinking flourished at the time.
When I came across Martin Bosma’s recent publication De schijn-élite van de valse munters (The Pseudo-Elite of the Counterfeiters), it was not immediately clear to me what it was that I was looking at.1 Martin Bosma is now a member of parliament for the Dutch nationalist-populist party, the PVV—the Partij Voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom), as well as the right arm and intellectual voice of Geert Wilders, the party’s leader. Published by an independent publishing house renowned for its nonfiction titles in the fields of history and sociology, the cover of the book ensures that you will recognize its appearance following that of the protest pamphlets inspired by left-wing movements of the 1960s, 70s, or 80s. At first I was not certain whether this was a bitter use of irony or the author’s conscious appropriation of the tactics and terminology of these protest movements for the sake of his quite different convictions. He seems to know very well what they looked like, and how effective certain techniques can be, and this could very well be due to his own proximity to these same leftist movements.
Without going too much into the meaning of the title or the content of the book—in which he analyzes the (so despised) emergence of Dutch multicultural society and argues against all the ideals stemming from ’68, against a left-wing elite blind to the imbalance these ideals brought to Dutch society, and against the dangers of Islam—I would like to simply consider the significance of its aesthetics. A clear opposition to the establishment—the “elite”—and a willingness to fight them head-on has been a primary characteristic of left-wing grassroots movements, which we recognize in the use of this rough black and white print style. And the new populists, represented by Martin Bosma, fashion themselves as similarly anti-establishment, anti-elite, standing for an oppressed voice that now finally speaks through a heroic willingness to fight. As with their claim to freedom of speech, they model themselves on—or hijack—a tradition whose ideals and players they ridicule. Blaming these very movements for the mess they now claim to clear up, they simplify and banalize all arguments.
In the current debates around cultural policies, this same group has given us the common label of the “left-wing hobby” for every role one could possibly play in relation to art—from audience to producer. As a result of their pressure and power in the current government, disproportional cuts have been made in the national cultural budget, which have been defended by many others in the political sphere, resulting in the very disconcerting terms in which culture and art are now being discussed. For example, a liberal politician has suggested watching a DVD at home to be a much more satisfying experience than going out to an experimental theatre. It has become clear enough that the aggressive tone of right-wing populists is now resounding on all sides of the fence, and this has been their real success. Even if many museum directors, critics, and editors ridicule the idea of the “left-wing hobby,” and distance themselves from the “enemy” of culture they recognize in PVV, the tendency to follow this populist logic seems widely accepted by those who produce ideas and arguments in the public sphere. There are plenty of players within the intellectual sphere, and in the art world itself, who allow art to act as a form of entertainment—one that needs to be user-friendly, and also paid for by this user. Similarly, questions over what is and isn’t part of a national canon, what the role of art could be in the discussion of national identity, and so forth, have already been debated far too seriously to be dismissed as part of the same sliding of values to meet the populists’ views.
The defense of art and culture as something with quite another vital role for society seems to be left to a small group far from the power center, that by now may be something like an “elite.” Since Bosma and his friends are fighting this “elite” head-on, those who over the last three decades would have called themselves the alternative voice to the establishment—with their own distaste for the “elites”—must revalue the term, as they can no longer rely on thelook of the “critical” or the “alternative.”
To conclude with a final look at the slippery nature of the aesthetics with which populist ideology packages itself, while thinking at the same time about how such moves implicate an intellectual leftist tradition, I would like to point once more to Martin Bosma’s book. As is common with this kind of publication, four comments on the author’s persona are listed on the back cover to promote the book. However, here we notice an unusual technique: the first is from a member of parliament who accuses the author of being a xenophobic racist. In the second, the chairman of the Second Chamber warns of the kind of disturbance he can cause, followed by the statement by Bosma’s party that he is a political genius, and concluding with a remark that he is the intellectual power behind Geert Wilders. This final remark is quoted from the traditionally left-wing critical weekly Vrij Nederland (Free Netherlands). Straightforwardly appropriated here, the comment may stand for the need to rethink critical intellectual and aesthetic practices.
Taken from e-flux.com/