Riding the Tiger of Liberalism:

Imagine liberalism, not as a linear progression, but as a subterranean network of desiring forces. Imagine liberalism, not as a grand narrative of Western superiority, but as a twisting, subterranean rhizome. This warped root system burrows through history, finding purchase in the fertile grounds of burgeoning empires.

Western liberalism isn’t the dominant root; it’s just a particularly vigorous offshoot. Ming China, the Ottoman Empire – these were also vibrant expressions of the liberal impulse, their tendrils reaching for expansion, innovation, and the fulfillment of desires. Each, at its zenith, pulsated with a chaotic vibrancy, a tolerance for difference. Ming China, a rhizomatic network of markets and bureaucratic flows, pulsated with this libidinal energy. The Ottomans, a nomadic assemblage, surfed the wave of conquest, incorporating diverse populations under a (relatively) loose rein. This wasn’t enlightened benevolence; it was the exuberant free-play of power at its peak. Trade flourished, ideas bloomed, a multiplicity of desires found expression. This was liberalism as a deterritorializing force, carving out spaces of freedom within the rigidities of established structures.

Power, in this sense, is not a possession, but a flow – and at their zenith, these empires all rode that current.

The Mirror Stage of Decline

But beware the Real! It lurks beneath the Symbolic order of Law and Reason that underpins this liberal facade. The lack, the ever-present hole in the social fabric, is papered over with a fantasy of limitless growth. The gaze of the Other, the West in this case, fuels a paranoid competition. The Other, once tolerated or incorporated, becomes a threat. Ming China retreats into isolation. The Ottoman Sultans become suspicious of Janissaries.

But then comes the Fall, the shattering of the mirror. The once-mighty empire confronts its own limitations, its image fractured. Internally, paranoia sets in. The open borders and experimentation of the liberal phase give way to a desperate clinging to the fractured self-image. History becomes a Burroughs-esque cut-up. The liberal flourish – Ming opera troupes touring Southeast Asia, Ottoman engineers building magnificent bridges – is juxtaposed with the violence of decline: eunuchs wielding power in the Forbidden City, Janissary rebellions wracking Constantinople. The body politic itself becomes fragmented, mirroring the fractured self-image. Fear is the scalpel, carving up the once-unified social fabric. The West, too, will face its own cut-up – a kaleidoscope of social unrest, political polarization, and a desperate search for a past glory that may never have existed.

Ming Emperors, forever haunted by the specter of peasant rebellion, tighten their grip. The Ottomans, fixated on the mirage of absolute power, ossify into stagnation. The West, too, will face this mirror – its reflection distorted by fear of immigrants, economic anxieties, and a waning sense of global dominance. The word “liberal” becomes a cut-up phrase, spliced and diced by the meat grinder of history. Ming mandarins, their bellies full of fat goose and opium fumes, become grotesque parodies of freedom. Janissaries, their scimitars dripping with blood, enact a twisted performance of tolerance. The virus of control infects every system. Liberal indulgence morphs into paranoid involution.

Drone strikes become the new trade routes. Social media, a panopticon of control disguised as a marketplace of ideas. They preach freedom while their borders bristle with barbed wire. The West hasn’t transcended the cycle; it’s hurtling towards its own inevitable decline, its liberalism a grotesque parody of its former vibrancy.

The punchline? Liberalism isn’t some uniquely Western invention. It’s a phase, a power surge, that all empires experience. The key is not to mistake the temporary high for the permanent state of being. The West, drunk on its own dominance, might be in for a hangover of epic proportions. But just as new shoots emerge from the rhizome, perhaps the decline of the West will open space for new expressions of the liberal impulse – elsewhere, unforeseen.

Whispers of lines of flight, escapes from the striated order. Hints at a new Symbolic order, one that acknowledges the Real and doesn’t try to paper it over. Burroughs screams for a cut-up revolution, a radical reconfiguration of the social body. Can we dismantle the tiger of Liberalism before it throws us all? Perhaps liberalism, shorn of its Western pretensions, can become a tool for dismantling all empires, a weapon against the mirror stage’s allure. A future where deterritorialization is not the privilege of the powerful, but a force for genuine multiplicity. The question is, are we ready to tear down the façade and embrace the chaotic potential?

Probably not