Yonder Yecialism? A constructive critique of Ye’s Clubhouse Interview

‘[T]he run in 24, if I can word it like that, will not be based on division and diversity but on unification. In America we will augment policy to align with the Bible to serve all Americans — no matter what their class, what their race, what their background. It’s about Jesus, love, happiness, and innovation. And that is not what is being sold to us by the media [and its] trauma economy.’

— Ye (from author’s transcript of passages of the Clubhouse interview available on Telegram).

What policies would ex-billionaire rapper, fashion designer, and political provocateur Kanye West support as President? What do these policies mean in practice? A full breakdown, appraisal, and critical examination (with some suggestions of my own for presidential candidates, many of whom are yet to be announced):

In the Clubhouse interview of ‘Ye’ (the artist formerly known as Kanye West) on Telegram, the focus is not rhetoric but policy. I have argued before that policy is what matters in politics. Rhetoric is the mask of power. Policy is power. So let’s get down to it. What are the policies of the ‘Ye 24’ campaign? Ignoring the blind praise and blame attributed to the campaign and its protagonist by the mainstream media and alternative media sources, what is actually going on in the campaign? I must take this interview as the only good evidence so far on this subject. I believe I am one of the first to write a detailed examination of some its contents (if not the first — but as was oft said in the last great epoch of ideological obfuscation, pride is a sin). And boy oh boy, is there a lot to examine …

A mythic inspiration? The classic of modern critical theory from leading Frankfurt School members Adorno and Horkheimer, ‘Dialectic of Enlightenment.’

Thoughts on international and domestic policy

China. On this subject Ye is crystal clear. End China’s Most Favored Nation status (alluding to China’s full membership of the World Trade Organization since 2001). Renew the American alliance based on (and this brings us to domestic policy rapidly) a fusion of entrepreneurial capitalism and some version of democratic socialism which can only be called Yecialism. Unlike Trump, Ye wants to protect the poorest from capitalism’s excesses. Somewhat unlike Bernie, Ye wants entrepreneurialism to be a key feature of society. What Ye opposes is ‘TikTok’-era monopoly capitalism — the defining feature of totalitarianism, according to Franz Neumann and Ernst Fraenkel who saw the evils of totalitarianism first hand (and whose writings I have written about at length). Ye’s rhetoric of challenging taboos on what is acceptable speech has been taken to imply he supports totalitarianism in practice, or at least some form of racialised discrimination. But his policies suggest the opposite. Don’t get me wrong: Ye may yet be the Lucifer of this century, doomed to repeat the mistakes of the last. I just don’t see it yet, and in my book history is not a Manichean fight of good versus evil anyway — that idea, as Hannah Arendt and Frantz Fanon never ceased to emphasise in their systematic and persuasive takedowns of antisemitism and anti-black racism, lies at the beating heart of colonial-imperial totalitarianism. Totalitarian propaganda is all hate. The alternative is love. Right?

There is an apparent exception to this supposed rule of policy. Ye opposes abortion. He supports Republican restrictions on abortion. What about cases where the mother’s life is in danger? Well according to those cases the GOP already opposes abortion based on right to life. It is in cases where the mother’s life is not in danger that Roe v. Wade covers. Ye’s position may be subject to critique. It is hardly out of the Republican mainstream. Will Ye clarify cases in which the overturning of Roe v. Wade seems to challenge the very sanctity of the mother’s life? I hope this clarification is offered, for the entire pro-life argument is grounded on, well, life. All lives matter — right, Ye?

What about Democrats? Wasn’t Ye a Blue-State person once, calling George Bush racist after Hurricane Katrina disproportionately affected poor black communities with insufficient government protection, before his donning the MAGA hat set him on the path to allegiance with the alt-right? But just as Ye rejected the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, so will he reject the alt-right. His current policy platform aligns closely with the alt-left. Commentators such as Aimee Terese (now back on Twitter after Elon Musk’s reopening of the platform to previously censored voices) have been drawing on Frankfurt School thinkers like Zygmunt Bauman for some time to critique ‘woke capitalism’, ‘therapeutic totalitarianism’, and other such catchphrases for the institutional tyranny of professional elites in media and scholastic ivory towers (if Thomas Hobbes were around today, he would surely be making similar critiques of what Marxists such as Barbara Ehrenreich have termed ‘the professional-managerial class’ and its new Scholasticism). The personal is political, yes — but not really. The political is political. Rhetoric is a façade. What about policies?

Bernie Sanders supported economic policies to liberate the working class. But Donald Trump won over voters with the rhetoric of liberation but the reality of economic subordination. Bernie’s rhetoric became captured by student politics and woke liberalism between his 2016 and 2020 campaigns. Working-class voters deserted him in that time. When Ye was planing his 2020 campaign, he suggested fusing the policy of Bernie with the rhetoric of Trump. The rhetoric is not reality, but it is a fantasy that must be sustained to win over trodden-over voters in middle America who rightly resent the urbanisation and financialisation of society. A tougher stance on China may aid this, but it is insufficient. Combining Trump’s foreign policy (trade war with China, upped the max) with Bernie’s domestic policy (Medicare for All?) may help this cause.

Ye’s Clubhouse Interview is freewheeling and philosophically intriguing. But the details of Ye’s policies are yet to be fleshed out. The direction of travel is as promising as his rhetoric is disturbing for many people who fear the return of Great Depression politics. But as David Runciman has argued, we live in older, advanced, complex societies. The ‘30s are the past when it comes to domestic politics. Internationally, the rise of totalitarian China does echo the rise of Germany in the first half of the last century. And on that question, Ye’s position is closer to Churchill’s than anyone else’s. Imagine if Churchill led America in tandem with Roosevelt’s trust-busting economic program of reform … That would have been a formidable alliance with which to defeat totalitarian Germany. Can Ye do this in the quest to defeat totalitarian China, all while overcoming totalitarian censorship at home? I cannot be sure.

On climate change, Ye calls attention to the difference between Tesla’s technological ingenuity and Edison’s business acumen. It is clear this tension animates Ye’s own thought, seeing ‘the real world is a videogame’ (or in the words of Ultralight Beam, ‘This is a god dream. This is everything …’). When it comes to the triple crisis of capitalism, China, and climate change, Ye has some interesting ideas. Concrete policies? Wait and see.

‘Free American prisoners held abroad.’ To that end Ye planned to meet Putin on freeing American prisoners in collaboration with the U.S. State Department. I don’t know what’s happening here but it is certainly interesting.

‘Everything is designed around our education system.’ The man who made The College Dropout notices the pipeline from educational discrimination and state/private imprisonment. ‘That slave boat has never ended — and the prison system is the new version of that. [We] talk about rehabilitation — but how is it rehabilitation if we were never provided with those opportunities in the first place.’ In the context of 90s-era Clintonian surge in imprisoned black Americans, I find no objection to this.

Rhetoric, reality, and other revelations

Similarly, in The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt showed how the 1900s-era cycle between ancien régime restrictions on Jewish people and Napoleonic lifting of those restrictions placed many in a precarious position when economic crises hit. People looked for someone to blame and imprison, as occurred when Alfred Dreyfus was hounded out of the French military simply because he was Jewish. Emile Zola wrote a letter ‘J’Accuse’ identifying a right-wing cabal of generals to be responsible for this treachery, thereby exonerating Dreyfus. But as Hannah Arendt noted, this controversy formed the prelude to the atrocities of the twentieth century. Remember: the totalitarian state specifically targeted people seen as ‘different’, such as people who might now be labelled with bipolar disorder, autism, or other such misnomers for a very human refusal to abide by conventional societal norms.

I fear such 1890s logics are replaying today, as the situation of black people in America today is analogous to the situation of Jewish people in Europe in the nineteenth century. Hannah Arendt and Frantz Fanon noted the similarity between different forms of racism. I have tried to argue it is policy that matters much more than rhetoric, and that it is policies and actions that are prejudiced, not mere words and thoughts, whose censorship is the root and stem of Orwellian totalitarianism, which is inextricably linked to antisemitism (another Arendtian insight). Antiintellectualism and hatred of creatives and artists also go hand-in-hand with prejudice. I say this not merely to challenge the mainstream interpretation of recent controversies, but to draw our attention back from rhetorical deception to the light of policy and the material reality on which it is grounded.

‘Jesus said so or Jesus said no.’ In one remarkable moment, Ye condemns pornography as the outcome of molestation and exploitation. Feminist Catherine MacKinnon long ago said this about pornography. It is true. We must not give in to such devilry. Universal love requires freedom from exploitation. That much is clear.

‘Our greatest energy is each other. Be good to each other. Let’s hug each other. Let’s love each other. Let’s not judge each other.’ I cannot find reason to disagree with this.

But something is wrong here. Before Jesus Is King, Ye was like Augustine before being made chaste. ‘Lord make me chaste — but not yet!’ Is Ye kicking down the ladder up which he rose — the ladder of luxury? ‘We’re already in World War III.’ Sure, ye. But what about having a good time? Kanye and Ye have one thing in common, originality. And despite the inconsistency, this is a rare quality in today’s age of mediocrity. I think balance is best. I think there is a way of improving on this vision by synthesising its poles into a single polity, free from elements which do not exist side-by-side with universal love. But this is a start — one beginning, among many.

But when Ye starts referring to the Hollywoof celebrity world as ‘Jewtown,’ I have to stop listening. ‘We enslave ourselves to things that are against the Bible.’ Antisemitism is one of them. Come on, Ye. ‘No sex before marriage, no random cursing.’ My god. The old Kanye is really gone. ‘Ain’t none of us perfect.’ The old Kanye was like the Old Testament. The new Kanye is like the New Testament. We went from Bach to Beethoven very quickly. In between there is Ye’s admiration of ‘Buddhism.’ The art of flowing with the moment is remarkable. I hope Ye never loses that human spirit. Is he misunderstood?

‘You move anywhere out the way, we gonna put you in jail.’ This recognition of the coercive character of modern society is as apt as it is consistent with the condemnation of ideological manipulation as ‘mental slavery.’

But isn’t religion mental slavery? Plato referred to ‘noble lies’ that must accompany policy. And I regret the way we have delved into this rhetorical space at this point in the article. We have lost sight of policy. David Runciman argues in Political Hypocrisy: The Mask of Power from Hobbes to Orwell and Beyond that the only real hypocrisy is anti-hypocrisy. Hypocrisy itself is politically necessary. So good, so far.

But as Helen Thompson once argued concerning Corbyn and the allegations of antisemitism in the Labour Party, one way in which individuals can be subject to the modern version of witch hunts is by the utopian hope that things can be better. If we think we are free from a prejudice, we will fail to notice it in others. Similarly if we think we are prejudiced, we will accuse others of being the same. We must avoid either extreme. We must remain balanced.

‘This is the reason why the run in 24, if I can word it like that, will not be based on division and diversity but on unification. In America we will augment policy to align with the Bible to serve all Americans — no matter what their class, what their race, what their background. It’s about Jesus, love, happiness, and innovation. And that is not what is being sold to us by the media [and its] trauma economy.’ Ye goes on to criticise gerrymandering (a Democratic talking point).

Ye does say the word ‘antisemitism’ can’t be used. Well let this post serve as proof to the contrary. ‘Be more specific.’ Niccolò Machiavelli took the term virtù and redefined it for a modern age, leaving Christian virtue behind. Marx took old terms, too, and turned them on their head. I have done an MPhil in intellectual history, inspired by linguistic philosophers such as Wittgenstein, and I face the task of giving specific definitions of terms with promise. I have recently noted the worrying rise in antiintellectualism, or hatred of philosophy and artistry which challenges conventional views and tropes, and I would like to reaffirm that provisional conceptual clarification of antisemitism. I wrote a first-rated essay in my politics BA on the history of antisemitism under Professor Brendan Simms. I gave a definition then which I also consider to have enduring value. More recently the Frankfurt School of critical theory has deeply influenced my views.

‘Hope they don’t kill him … He is so brave. This is not bravery, this is war … If we don’t [act], anyone who speaks against the media’s plan to control us [will be censored]’. We will be duped and doped into submission, in a peculiar fusion of Huxley’s Brave New World and Orwell’s 1984. Fight totalitarianism, fight censorship. Or in the words of an earlier hip hop track by Public Enemy, ‘Fight The Power.’

‘We still doing music. We don’t need your platforms.’ Mm. I wonder what the alternatives to monopoly platforms will be. ‘A New God Order is in town’ to challenge the ‘New World Order.’ This is ‘not a moral code but a Biblical code.’ ‘We have to restore ordinary Americans’ economy. We have to get children to learn vocational skills — not just programming.’ For with big companies like Google and Uber (and here Ye’s enduring genius really shines through like a bolt of lightning, akin to some of the brightest economic minds such as Adam Smith or Karl Marx), ‘They already have enough people. They’re giving people jobs so that the geniuses won’t [create a new platform to] take them out.’ This is undoubtedly true. Monopoly capitalism suppresses innovation. For sure. It is also totalitarianism.

‘This is humanity or death.’ Ye feels that free expression is the essence of the human condition. ‘America, Saudi Arabia, and Israel’ have ceded power to ‘China, to the communists’. I am a Marxist in economic terms, but I agree with this condemnation of political communism.

I should add that when Ye uses certain words, he is playing a Wittgensteinian language game, employing what Skinner termed ‘rhetorical redefinition’ of terms to overcome their old specific connotations, removing external bigotry of its own inner bigotry, thereby transforming its strategic purpose and (a)moral content. If there is a linguistic-philosophical theodicy of Ye’s rhetoric beyond the fundamentals of reality,

‘Love to Obama and his family’ for what Barack did for black people in this ‘relay race’. I always looked up to Obama, too. Dreams From My Father is one of my favourite books. Ye is the first triple billionaire with black skin in America. Can he become the second President? I believe I am the only person who I have heard of who has said he can. I still think he can. ‘Yes, We Can,’ was Obama’s slogan. Yes, Ye Can? Oh, what do I know — I’m just a twenty two year-old ex-student applying for PhDs and developing a music career, with nothing better to do on a Monday evening than listen to portions of an interview with a rapper running for President, one whose honorary PhD has been revoked after being accused of defending totalitarianism by saying that he loves all people, even and including totalitarians, and I am yet to string a single coherent sentence together that can persuade anyone with anything like Rousseau’s ‘sublime reason’ of the philosopher-legislator of old …

In Dialectic of Enlightenment, Adorno and Horkheimer spoke of the ‘culture industry’ as the driving force of prejudice and paranoid power politics in modern society. Ye’s critique of TikTok-addled society echoes that older critique of totalitarianism. Hate the sin, not the sinner, who should be part of a community of universal love. Love all people, especially those with whom you disagree. I think that is the clearest lesson from this interview, for good or ill. What will happen next is anyone’s guess. In the third millennium, there is only one real rule: expect the unexpected. And if I were to condense my inspirations Plato, Jesus, and Machiavelli — together with their modern counterparts — I would say these three words, with no small degree of anxiety, hope, and anticipation of a hitherto unanticipated future: Anything is possible.

Someday we’ll all be free

Disclaimer: Any similarity between names mentioned and actual individuals is purely accidental and largely theoretical. These are fun ideas to entertain but, as always, I may be mistaken. After all, what do I know?

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