On 9 January 2017, one of the 20th century’s one of the most influential sociologists, Zygmunt Bauman passed away at age 91. The left-wing thinker, Bauman published more than 50 books, and he focused on modernity, globalisation, consumerism, ethics, equality and inequality. A critic of globalisation, he used the phrase “liquid modernity” to describe marginalised and rootless individuals.1 Bauman gave his last major TV interview to Al Jazeera last year. He talked about the current political and social issues of the world. In the interview, he was evaluating the consequences of the migration crisis in the short term and long term, explaining why the populist discourses are rising and populist leaders are getting stronger. What makes European people afraid? Is the ‘globalisation’ a threat for ‘our’ own boundaries?
It is important to analyse the interview with Zygmunt Bauman to understand current issues of the world, and their effects for future. This essay aims to analyse Bauman’s observations about Europe and the world, and to make his predictions about future more understandable. It is generally based on the interview and his books about globalisation and community.
According to Bauman, “the state” is an agent which makes a claim on establishing rules on the certain territory. The legislative and executive power of the modern state is established on military, economic and cultural sovereignty. First, global scene was a “politic theatre” which aimed to protect the borders in which each state set up its legislative and executive sovereignty. However; during the Cold War, two blocks dominated the World encouraged coordination between states which has been in their power areas. Therefore, global scene broke the military, economic and cultural sovereignty of nation states, and it made the borders invisible which was drawn by the way of conflicts and negotiation. It is the time of the globalisation for the world, and Bauman mentioned in one of his articles “More than anything else, ‘globalisation’ means that the network of dependencies is fast acquiring a worldwide scope – a process which is not being matched by a similar extension of viable institutions of political control and by the emergence of anything like a truly global culture.”2
Today, globalisation is still one of the most challenging circumstances of the world. When the current political issues are examined, populist discourses are rising all around the world. Populist or far right politicians such as Donald Trump in the USA, Marine Le Pen in France or Nigel Farage in UK are in the limelight because they always mention the ideas about the “fear” of people strongly. Bauman illuminates the term “liquid fear” to describe the situation of people on every level of human life that is ‘uncertainty’. Bauman says in the interview “Liquid fear means fear flowing on our own court, not staying in one place but diffuse.” Uncertainty puts people who are lower down in social hierarchy, living in poverty or close to poverty into a very complex situation; it is impossible to predict the future, and people find themselves uneasy, lost to act with certainty. Bauman terms these people as “precariat” that comes from a French word “precarité” which means walking on moving sands. Especially this “precariat” in Europe and the USA pays attention to populist politicians because they think that globalisation treat their own borders, security and nations. They demand balance between security and freedom, and for this reason they believe that only strong politicians/leaders can create this balance, only they provide a total safety and welfare for them, “precariat”. They already accept to exchange their freedom for security, and they do not care whether the leader or the government is totalitarian because they have never experienced totalitarianism. As Charles Tilly, has already said “the government has organised a protection racket”. “Precariat” accepts the “protection racket” to makes their country more powerful. Bauman says “Strong men, more and more people dream about returning somebody who has the courage, the ambition, the boldness to say, give me the power and I will take responsibility for your future” to make clear the Presidency of Donald Trump, president of the “Great United State”. However, he highlights that it is not just the case of US, this is in every country of the world. He also pays attention to that the rise of populist discourses and leaders is related with fail of democracy. People consider that democracy did not pass the test, it is weak and very strong in mouth but not in its deeds. Thus, “America will be again great or Marine Le Pen in France will be again great”. Strong power also means strong economy, and people who suffered by mainly 2008 economic crisis consider that strong leader provides economic progress in growing GNP.
Today, the other reason for liquid fear is the migration crisis which influences particularly Europe. There were always waves of migration for many decades to Europe, and people were generally economic migrants. However, the situation is very different today. Many migrants flee their countries because of the war and violent conflicts. Many of them had homes, position in society, were educated and well off in their own country. Nevertheless, they lost their home, position in society, everything that they had worked to achieve during their lives; and now they are refugees. They go to Europe. Precariat does not say welcome to refugees because refugees symbolise their fear and the hard truths. Refugees bring bad news from their country, and they put these at precariat’s backyard. These people lower down in social hierarchy in Europe are afraid of lost their jobs, rights and social position because of refugees as Bauman says “Precariat lives by anxiety, by fear”. People in middle class are self- assured and well of thanks to their powerful politicians. They support these kind politicians because they promise for banning migration and defeating damages of “globalisation” for their country. Bauman makes clear this with these sentences “…and we ascribe this fear logically to the fact that somewhere in the cyber space well beyond control of our government, not to mention our own control. There are forces which we call by the name of ‘global’, ‘global powers’. Which can do whatever they wish, they may strike at any moment. If my job is threatened, that is because of the process of globalisation.”
The title of this essay became a quote from Bauman. He thinks that the shock is only beginning. Last year or now the wave of immigration was or is not the last one, and populist leaders may become in the limelight for years, but this is not for a long time. Bauman depicts that there is no shortcut solution for current problems. He says “dialogue is a long long process coming to an understanding takes some time the whole generation, even more than one generation. So, we have to brace ourselves to very difficult time coming”. Dialogue he depicts is a long road to integration without separation to solve conflicts. Divisions and conflicts between people is as old as humanity, but the solution is possible and powerful. Our world lives in hard times now. However, as Albert Sorel said that when the world change its suit, incidents become inescapable. Zygmunt Bauman witnessed many changes throughout his life, but he cannot witness the changing of our hard times. Au revoir, Zygmunt Bauman!
2 Bauman, Zygmunt. Community : seeking safety in an insecure world. Cambridge : Polity ; Malden, MA : Blackwell, 2001. P. 89-109
Bauman, Zygmunt. Küreselleşme: toplumsal sonuçları. İstanbul : Ayrıntı Yayınları, 2012.