David Garcia on Mon, 27 May 2019 19:48:45 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> *Farage's as Hyper-leader * A Knoweledge Free Zone* - by Design

*Farage's as Hyper-leader and the cult of disintermediation*

It is no longer news (if it ever was) that the big winners in the UK’s European Parliamentary elections were the Bexit Party or 
rather the Nigel Farage party. This was a remarkable achievement bearing in mind his party has only been in existence for 
six weeks. Meanwhile Farage’s previous vehicle Ukip without the blokish charisma of its former talismanic show-man 
was effectively wiped off the political map.  

Away from the frothy headlines it is worth highlighting two very useful reference points to help us make some 
sense of Farage’s extraordinary political resurrection. To begin with there is the influence of Gianroberto Caseleggioan 
(brain lord) of the 5Star movement. For this angle I ransacked  Darren Loucaides’ article for the Guardian which chronicles in some 
depth the history and influence on Farage’s strategic thinking of Caseleggio, the backroom brains and partner (until Caseleggio’s death) 
of 5Star's own ‘hyperleader’ Bepe Grillo. Caseleggio is widely acknowledged as being instrumental in guiding Grillo in deploying digital 
platforms to propel the 5Star movement into power. The article not only charts the relationship between the two men it also exposes the 
faultlines in exagerated claims that 5Star’s participatory platform Rouseau is a space of genuine democratic participation on which consensus 
spontaneously arises though the platform’s ingenious design. Loucaides’ article paints a far less flatering picture than the narrative of an open 
and organic process of deliberative decision making. He describes a space in which strategic interventions of Caseleggio shape decisions in the direction 
of outcomes that the leadership prefers including members agreeing to join the right wing parliametry block with UKIP.  

The second point is that however Farage began as he surfed the zeitgeist he has emerged as a classic example of what Paolo Gerbaudo 
calls a ‘hyperleader’, a phenonemon connected to widespread suspiscion of structures of management and mediation. This according to Gerbaudo 
gives rise to a certain kind of leadership based on immediacy and the claim that technology can be employed to eliminate the layers of
bureacracy separating leader from the “people".   

The concept of the hyperleader is developed in a chapter in Gerbaudo’s excellent ‘The Digital Party: Political Organisation and Online Democracy, 
And many of the descriptions can be almost isomorphically mapped over Farage’s persona. There is something very particular about Farage’s emergence 
as the most successful political actor of his generation in the UK. To call him a populist is accurate (anyone claiming to speak for the people whilst singling 
out vulnerable groups -people with AIDS, Refugees, people speaking languages other than English in public spaces for criticism etc) is evidence enough. But this 
doesnt do justice to his particular character and style. It is this context that Gerbaudo’s concept of the ‘hyperleader’ as a "purveyer of a spectacular and 
highy personalised form of leadership that matches the changes in the public sphere as a consequence of the rise of digital hypermedia.” takes us further 
than the mere epiphet ‘populist'

The Italian Connecton

Loucaides’ article in the Guardian charts how the connection between Farage and 5Star goes back to a visit in 2015. Not only is Farage immediately 
impressed by “how Caselegglio was using social media and the internet to create a new model for communications” This platform later culmianted in the
“participatory” decision making platform Rousseau. But of more substantive influence on Farage was the fact that "the 'movement’ was dominated by a 
private company owned by Caseleggio.”

It is above all this model of the political party *as an instrument of corporate control* that made the deepest impression and it is this element 
that he eventually replicated in the formation of the Brexit Party which Farage constitutes as a private limited company with no members, just paying ‘registerred 
supporters’ with Farage having overal control. For all Farage and his 'sock puppets’ incesent sound and fury on the subject of democracyIt is hard 
to imagine a less democratic structure than the brexit party. In this regard it is closer to the Dutch 'Freedom Party' and the control exerted by Geert Wilders.  


It is not the creation of participatory platforms that Farage absorbed via Caseleggio so much as the rhetoric of ‘disintermediation’ that goes back to the 
early 1990s , the belief that it was the destiny of the internet to eliminate the gate keepers and intermediaries that stand between provider and consumer. 
The elimination of bureaucracies and complex chains of decision making would have an obvious appeal to the former commodities trader Farage. It is 
not difficult to see where he and Assange might make common cause. 

The rise of the hyperleader must be seen in the context of the growth of a generalised suspicion and “distrust towards bureaucratic organisation, which 
as highlighted as one of the dogmas of neoliberalism and a prominant feature of digital cultures […] large scale bureaucratc organisations are always bent 
on betraying the people they are supposed to serve, and are utterly inefficient and wasteful.” (Gerbaudo P.152)

Adopting the stragely outmoded narrativeof disintermediation harks back to the era before "platform capitalism" took hold, when it was believed that we were on the 
brink of the bonfire of the" gate keepers”. No more publishers standing between authors and readers. No more shops standing between consumers 
and producers. This was the rehtoric of the old ICT era long before the world was totally re-mediated by the platforms. But weirdly the rhetoric still cuts through.

Farage like other hyperleaders represents a "spectacular and highy personalised form of leadership” in direct contact with “the people” who in the
language beloved of Farage “cut out the middle man”. So intimate is the bond between leader and members that there is no need for palava by which we scrutinise 
our political parties and hold them to account like manifestos. Brexit Party is unusual in refusing to publish a manifesto. Hyperleadesrhip is this materialises as
a "knowledge free zone” by design, anti-epistemic to the core. One of their leading members Claire Fox (and now EMP) responded to journalistic questioning with t
he words “don’t insult me”. 

Here is Gerbaudo’s description of the ‘hyerleader’ a profile to which Farage conforms in every detail.

"Responding to the mercurial nature of social media communication, its obsession with 
personality and celebrity and, the widespread distrust of organisations and bureacaracy 
that has become widespread in our society, the hyperleader presents himself as a departure 
from the technocratic and aloof politicians a disgruntled electorate is all to familiar with. 
The hyperleader floats above the party like a gas ballon and attempts to lift the party’s militancy 
and its electrate all by himself - a baloon whose gas is the visibility of the leader, representations, 
both on TV and on social media." (The Digital Party 2018 p.148/149) 


Perhaps the phenomenon of the ‘hyperleader’ has a structural instability. Stephen Bush, the editor of the new Statesman speculated that when support 
for a leader coheres around social media, these digital publics often struggle to port over to a prefered successor. There is always something that “flakes”.
People don’t think the new person is quite as good as the old one . “I don’t like that McDonnell as much as I like Corbyn” for reasons that arent necessarily 
obvious.. Certainly Farage’s previous platform UKIP was unable to survive the departure of their hyperleader.

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