Theory Tuesday

by Michael Bérubé on September 9, 2008

Hello again, crooked timber of humanity! I’m sorry I’ve been gone so long. It feels like I’m always saying that, but then, that’s what happens when you move to the once-every-Jovian-year posting schedule.

Anyway, I’ve been perpetually preoccupied. Not long after Janet’s surgery we decided to build an innovative light rail system in front of our house, as you can see here. (See, I wasn’t kidding when I promised to do this all those years ago. Right on schedule for 2009, too!) Actually, we had a series of nasty sewer backups that culminated in a few inches of unpleasant water that just happened to pool in two key areas of the basement: the corner where I keep my drums and the corner where I keep my hockey equipment. So we basically had to get ourselves a brand new set o’ pipes if we wanted the house to do that fancy “indoor plumbing” stuff we’ve heard so much about. And I had to get a lot of new hockey equipment.

Oh, sure, I managed to post a bloggy thing or two here and there along the way. But then, in more recent months, I disappeared into real space altogether, more or less for the following reasons:

May: finishing my spring semester and then driving out to St. Louis to see Phyllis Schlafly to attend my firstborn’s college graduation and to begin the initial stages of moving him to New Haven for his first job (just as soon as he recovered from his surgery in July);

June: taking care of Nick and Jamie while Janet taught in Ireland (hey! some of you are from around there! I hope you saw Janet in June. She was the one who wasn’t carrying any bags, because of the neck surgery and all);

July: completing the very and completely finalmost (for now) revisions of The Left At War to respond to readers’ reports and friends’ extended commentaries, and to make sure the book lives up to its advance reputation as a very serious thoughtful argument that has never been made in such detail or with such care;

August: moving Nick to New Haven, hauling all his stuff up three flights of stairs and buying every piece of furniture that Ikea sells and then carrying that up three flights of stairs the next day, and then taking two weeks’ vacation in remote northwestern Maine, far from civilization and its internets;

September: returning home to find that John McCain has asked Harriet Miers 2.0 to be his running mate. Except that this version can speak in tongues and believes that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac can overcome their crisis by praying to God, getting married, and keeping the child. And America loves her! Hell, why wouldn’t we? She smiles a lot, she has maverickiness and pluck, and she’s from a good-hearted small town in America’s heartland, not some alien faraway exotic Muslim place like Hawai’i.

But that’s not why I’m back. I’m back because as I was scribbling away in July, I discovered a couple of interesting things I’d like to run by you, the dedicated (and gentle) readers of this fine blog. And, truth be told, it was sometimes fun, this reading and rewriting. For example: I happened to come across the passage below while traveling with Jamie to Las Vegas, where I took him to see the Cirque du Soleil show “Love,” based on the music of the Beatles. (I started to tell the story of this trip on another fine blog but then got derailed by in-real-space life. I’ll finish that story soon, I promise.) Jamie did not respond well to the Nevada heat; watching him stagger around in 108-degree weather (114 at Hoover Dam!), I could practically see his body’s vital fluids evaporating into the desert air. So I made sure to dunk him in the hotel pool at regular intervals (he’s the guy at right center, with the black goggles). And what was I doing while he was keepin’ cool Vegas style? I was reading these two pages from John Brenkman’s The Cultural Contradictions of Democracy: Political Thought since September 11. Here, Brenkman tries to explain the emergence of the Agamben Phenomenon, and along the way, offers an account of the fate of Western Marxism:

Agamben’s mode of argument is provocative in large part because, reflecting a recent trend in political commentary, it extracts certain concepts from thinkers associated with the extreme right and uses them for ostensibly progressive or radical democratic purposes. Against this trend it is often remarked, usually in histrionic tones of astonishment, that any philosophical claim made on the basis of concepts from a devoted Nazi like Carl Schmitt at best is tainted and at worst perpetuates fascist thinking. Such an attitude is woefully ill-founded, and it misses the mark when it comes to the intriguing question of why a thinker like Schmitt has become a point of reference for leftist thinkers.

The answer lies in the vicissitudes of Western Marxism, which came of age and thrived during the Cold War and then succumbed to crisis in its reactions to the fall of communism in 1989. The key to its crisis lay in its response to the Cold War divide of Soviet totalitarianism and Western capitalism. Why did Marxism have the ground cut from beneath it with the collapse of Soviet communism even though it had lent little or no support to the Soviet Union? All during the Cold War, Western Marxism forged a two-pronged discourse in search of a socialist vision that repudiated both American-led capitalism and Soviet-dominated totalitarianism. One prong criticized capitalism and the excesses of Western anticommunism lying behind repressive domestic policies (from McCarthyism in the 1950s to West Germany’s antiterrorist campaign in the late ‘70s) and neo-imperialist foreign policies (Vietnam, Chile, Nicaragua). Democracy per se was simply taken for granted, all the more so because of its reassuring stability and security in most Western countries, while the anticommunist excesses were blamed for inhibiting the creation of a more egalitarian society. The other prong denounced state socialism and imagined that every revolt in the Soviet bloc (Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland) was, despite its inevitable brutal repression by the Soviets, the harbinger of the eventual transformation of state socialism into something democratic. The two prongs complemented one another, as mutual alibis, so to speak: anti-anticommunism presupposed democracy while rejecting capitalism; antitotalitarianism presupposed socialism while rejecting bureaucracy and one-party rule. The rejection of capitalism, bureaucracy, and one-party rule seemed then to confirm the presupposition that socialism and democracy belong together. Meanwhile, the standoff of the Cold War itself deferred the crucial unanswered question: by what path could liberal democracy become socialist or state socialism democratic? When the Soviet system collapsed and the Cold War ended, Western Marxism had to face two uncomfortable truths: state socialism had never been reformable, and democracy has no intrinsic affinity with socialism or even social justice conceived in egalitarian terms.

New intellectual models were sought to link anew democracy and socialism, anticapitalism and expanded rights. While Agamben has essentially discarded the Marxist paradigm, he remains loyal to the aspiration that Marx gave to theory, namely, according to his oft-cited dictum, to be radical in the etymological sense of getting to the root, that is, the root of society, of politics, of history. How to live up to this aspiration after having long ago abandoned, or never held, the idea that the struggle between classes or the labor theory of value was the explanatory root of society, politics, and history? Enter Carl Schmitt. The sovereignty theorem is nothing less than a substitute root-thesis. The modern state – at bottom, at its origin, at heart, at the root – rests on arbitrary decision and violence. Schmitt celebrates decisionism, while Agamben turns it into the perfect tool for denouncing whatever aspect or action one might want to criticize in the modern state by tracing it implacably, logically, back to the root in violent arbitary will.

There’s more, of course, but perhaps that will do for now. I don’t want to blog too much all at once after a long layoff and injure myself. But I’m curious to know what you all make of this.

{ 114 comments }

1

Hermenauta 09.09.08 at 8:53 pm

“Why did Marxism have the ground cut from beneath it with the collapse of Soviet communism even though it had lent little or no support to the Soviet Union?”

That´s quite true, I think.

When I started to blog here in Brazil, and to comment in other blogs, one thing I learned very fast is that the collective memory of an anti-authoritarian socialist movement had disappeared. The “new right”, composed by the majority of young professionals who didn´t witnessed the “plumb years” of military dictatorship in Brazil, happily equated socialism with soviet socialism. In fact, the brazilian “new right” called even social-democrats as nazis long before Jonah Goldberg!

2

AcademicLurker 09.09.08 at 9:44 pm

I guess I’ll be the first to offer the obvious/simplistic explanation for Agamben’s popularity. His notion of the “state of exception”, the sovereign as the one who can declare the law to be suspended indefinitely without formally abrogating it & etc. seem to presciently describe the Bush/Cheney regime.

Also the centrality of “the camp” and “bare life” seem especially germane to the post 9/11 political situation (Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, & etc.).

Homo Sacer was published in 1998, and I’m not sure anyone else was as focused as he was on those particular themes at the time.

3

abb1 09.09.08 at 10:15 pm

Bureaucracy and one-party rule is not equal to ‘totalitarianism’; two-party rule is not equal to ‘democracy’. More subtlety, please.

4

Rich Puchalsky 09.09.08 at 10:21 pm

Why Schmitt? Because people are looking for a simple answer, I suppose. Marx as least had root-theories that attempted to explain the actuality of complex economic events. Schmitt’s ideas are simply propaganda for fascism, and are, therefore, simple. Take the friend-enemy distinction as the basis of the political. The enemy is “in a specially intense way, existentially something different and alien, so that in the extreme case conflicts with him are possible.” But as soon as you’ve phrased the political in this way, of course it becomes evident that conflicts with enemies are what it’s all about. Unlike any sort of actually existing democratic politics, which is based on coalitionism and all sorts of other messy things that the Western Marxists spent the last half of the 20th century failing at.

But beyond Schmitt, the whole search for root-theories is inherently questionable. Root-theories in politics immediately harden into ideology and doctrine, and then fail at the general purpose of theories, that of predicting what will happen, because they can’t be changed in response to new information.

5

Colin Danby 09.09.08 at 10:23 pm

What AcademicLurker said — why do you need this suspiciously tidy history of “Western Marxism” to explain why Agamben speaks to some people now? And does Brenkman cite? Lotta passive voice here. E.g. who are the misguided Agamben-critics who he brushes aside?

The last quoted para conflates root-seeking with the idea that there is only one root.

Welcome back, Michael! — I’m baking in Vegas myself right now. Still hoping for the final Stuart Hall installment, but I have learnt patience.

6

Rich Puchalsky 09.09.08 at 10:29 pm

“How to live up to this aspiration after having long ago abandoned, or never held, the idea that the struggle between classes or the labor theory of value was the explanatory root of society, politics, and history?”

Sorry to double-comment, but — isn’t that the core problem of Western Marxism right there? It’s not just that they had a bad reaction to historical events. It’s that if the struggle between classes or the labor theory of value are actually wrong, then Marxism is wrong. You can be a social democrat, or have vague feelings about the importance of social justice, and the labor theory of value can be completely unimportant to you. But if your politics is based on a theory, and the theory just doesn’t work, well…

7

Michael Bérubé 09.09.08 at 10:41 pm

Hi, Colin! The final Stuart Hall installment is now chapter 3 of The LAW. I might be persuaded to say a few words about it here, though — as long as it doesn’t lead to the “I don’t have to read the book, because I read a few blog posts” phenomenon I encountered with What’s Liberal? As for misguided Agamben-critics who resort to the genetic fallacy, well, there’s the guy who wrote, a few years ago, that “given Schmitt’s strident anti-Semitism and unambiguous Nazi commitments, the left’s continuing fascination with him is difficult to comprehend.” But, I admit, Brenkman does not cite him.

AcademicLurker: the obvious explanation makes sense, and I agree with it. But then this raises an obvious question: if it’s the Bush/Cheney regime you’re (i.e., one is) interested in contesting, then why would you want a theorist who, when confronted by Gitmo, says, “ah, ’twas ever thus, all the way back to Roman law. Sovereign is he who declares the state of exception”? Why wouldn’t you want someone who acknowledges the theory of the separation of powers, rather than someone who basically endorses the theory of the unitary executive? For example: look at what happens to Judith Butler when, in “Indefinite Detention,” she writes about Guantanamo via Agamben: suddenly, in order to argue that Guantanamo represents an illegitimate form of sovereign decision-making, she has to invoke things like judicial review, habeas corpus, evidentiary standards, international norms . . . why, if we continue down that road we might even have to agree with Habermas about some things, no? And admit that liberal pluralism’s separation of powers has something to recommend it?

And abb1, I’ve never been subtle enough for you. You know it, I know it. Henceforth, however, I will try to remember that the Soviet system involved bureaucracy and one-party rule but not totalitarianism.

8

rea 09.09.08 at 10:59 pm

the Soviet system involved bureaucracy and one-party rule but not totalitarianism

Stalin was pretty damn total, Gorbachev, less so . . . .

9

John Emerson 09.09.08 at 11:25 pm

Awhile back I read some of Agamben and some of the antecedent works by Benjamin, Schmitt, and Strauss. It was a good-faith attempt and I have some background in political theory (specifically Straussian political theory). I agree that this generally amounts to a desperate attempt be some (defeated) leftists to find some kind of relevance via deep theory.

Once conclusion I came to was that whatever you say about his culture criticism, Benjamin’s political thinking was completely incoherent and unintelligible and amounted to little more than an assemblage of verbiage. And he seemed to be driving the dialogue, at least at the beginning. It almost seemed that Schmitt’s decisionism was his attempt to patch together a reactionary version of Benjamin’s revolutionism, which in turn seemed more indebted to anarchism and syndicalism than to actual Marxism. The fetishism of violence was prominent in both cases.

I didn’t come out of it with any admiration of Strauss, either. By all the evidence he would have liked to have been a fascist, but wasn’t allowed to because of the particular form fascism took in his beloved Germany. When he fled to France he went hoping to meet Maurras, who ended up being lucky to escape execution as a Nazi collaborator. His and Schmitt’s common goal was a throoughgoing theoretical critique of liberalism, and he even accused Schmitt of being too close to liberalism, via Hobbes. (This vaguely fits in with Goldberg’s self-serving Liberal Nazi thesis, of course, though Strauss also proclaimed fascist sympathies at the time.)

I’ve read a moderate amount of Straussian secondary literature, and (subject to correction) I don’t remember them speaking of any Straussian crisis of faith or change of mind when he left Germany. He seems to have thought of liberal American as a temporary expedient useful for the purpose of saving Strauss’s ass and fighting Communism.

I ended up thinking that among the problems with the Benjamin-Strauss-Schmitt cluster was their philosophical insistence on getting to the bottom of things. I can make an argument that all states are founded on unlawful violence, but once consequence of that is that you don’t really want to go to the foundations very often; you really want to get the founding over with and go on with business. Somalia, for example, has been founded and refounded several times during the last decade or too.

My reading of this era has been stiffly criticized by a blogger named Craig, and maybe he’ll show up here. I picked up this debate in the hopes of finding something usable, and I found nothing to work with, so my studies ended before I became really expert, and Craig will point that out.

10

Rich Puchalsky 09.10.08 at 12:21 am

“if it’s the Bush/Cheney regime you’re (i.e., one is) interested in contesting […]”

I never understood this part. As far as I could see, Schmitt offers no basis on which to challenge Bush/Cheney. And if “Agamben turns it into the perfect tool for denouncing whatever aspect or action one might want to criticize in the modern state by tracing it implacably, logically, back to the root in violent arbitary will,” then logically this must apply to any action of any modern state, including socialist states. But this cluster of theories don’t appear to be used as a justification for anarchism, so what’s left, throwing up your hands? The liberal reasons why Bush/Cheney is bad at least differentiate some more-bad from some less-bad things and suggest that improvement is at least possible.

11

vivian 09.10.08 at 12:45 am

Welcome back, Michael, it is a pleasure to read your snark and a relief to see the generally good news from your life. (Hey, you got to buy new hockey stuff. That’s not so bad.)

I always figured social theorists turned to Schmidt because after Nietzsche, what else is there? Well, that and one professor who taught both Nietzsche and Schmidt while commuting to Germany to monitor his divorce. Is it any different with literary theorists? Also, as Schmidt becomes passe, who’s the next gory German to get grad students through generals?

12

bob mcmanus 09.10.08 at 12:59 am

“who’s the next gory German to get grad students through generals?”

Coulda been Hannah Arendt, but she liked Schmitt too much.

Liberal capitalism really is an unfalsifiable theory, isn’t it?

13

John Emerson 09.10.08 at 1:04 am

What do you propose, Bob? Schmitt had his proposal, Benjamin had his proposal, and Strauss gave up and signed on. So what’s your proposal?

Lots of stuff is unfalsifiable. You’re reading the wrong books. Schmitt, Strauss, Benjamin — none of them believed in falsifiability. That’s why they were decisionists.

14

John Emerson 09.10.08 at 1:05 am

Actually, Strauss believed in Truth. But not Popper’s way of approaching it.

15

bob mcmanus 09.10.08 at 1:25 am

I said Arendt, John.

I read old old unfashionable thinkers like Alisdair McIntyre, John. Carole Pateman. I know I don’t belong in this playpen.

I am just an amateur, but I do know there really isn’t any point to arguing with the liberals. Stuff like Quiggin’s post just bounces off them. Always just a little better process, some more dialogue, until the atomic rubble crushes the last debt-peon.

I think enough of Kotsko to hope he doesn’t bother.

16

Ben Alpers 09.10.08 at 1:25 am

Welcome back, Michael!

This may not be what you’re looking for but, for me, what leaped out from the passage you quoted was this:

When the Soviet system collapsed and the Cold War ended, Western Marxism had to face two uncomfortable truths: state socialism had never been reformable, and democracy has no intrinsic affinity with socialism or even social justice conceived in egalitarian terms.

That teleological language of necessity seems entirely unearned to me. Yes, the Soviet system collapsed without being reformed, but how does this indicate that it had never been reformable? And, no, democracy has not developed in the direction of socialism or even social justice, but how does the fact that it hasn’t happened to do so prove that it has “no intrisic affinity” with these things?

The answer, at least as far as the history of left political theory goes, is that Marxism is essentially teleological. So, naturally, Marxists would be prone to see history as unfolding, even in the short run, in ways that indicate the playing out of some iron law of society. If Western Marxism didn’t bear fruit, it couldn’t bear fruit. QED.

When I look at history I see a lot more contingency, which I suppose is one of the many reasons I’ve never really been a Marxist.

…as long as it doesn’t lead to the “I don’t have to read the book, because I read a few blog posts” phenomenon I encountered with What’s Liberal?

Is there some third way here? Has Chris Clarke stepped forward to do the graphic novelization of The LAW?

17

Ben Alpers 09.10.08 at 1:29 am

That’s why they were decisionists.

Actually, I don’t think Strauss was a decisionist…at least not by the time he wrote his book on Hobbes. But maybe John Emerson’s later note on Strauss and Truth acknowledges that.

(I have a comment in moderation and I can’t for the life of me figure out why. Is it because I mentioned the bearded, scientific socialist from Trier?)

18

urbanprof 09.10.08 at 1:31 am

In regards to the U.S., it might also have something to do with the demise of the post-WWII grand bargain between capital/labor engineered and maintained by the state and the rise of neoliberalism. By the 1980s it was clear that the state no longer was playing (as it had briefly) a managerial role, mediating between capital and labor. Rather, as neoliberal policies took hold,the state power was now aligned more directly with the interests of capital. Often this involved something that looked like Marx’s primitive accumulation (see David Harvey on accumulation by dispossession) whereby the state, vis-a-vis violence or the threat thereof, began privatizing previously public/common goods. Moreover, it often did so by circumventing or dissolving democratic processes via declarations of states of exception — a prime example is the fiscal crisis of the 1970s in NYC, where capitalists and politicians declared a “time out” from normal democratic processes in order to impose a neoliberal austerity regime. Thus Schmitt seemed useful to lefty analysts: the violence at the root of the modern state (and the power to declare the state of exception) was now being deployed in a far more straightforward way than had previously been the case towards the end of enhancing the process of capital accumulation. This also made democratic procedures look pretty damn good; thus the turn to democracy in a lot of Marxist/critical scholarship.

19

John Emerson 09.10.08 at 1:35 am

Arendt didn’t believe in falsifiability either. I read lots of old stuff too, but after I read Schmitt Arendt’s notion of The Political didn’t appeal to me any more.

If you have a better proposal than liberalism with any specificity I’d be glad to hear it.

20

John Quiggin 09.10.08 at 1:36 am

I’ve always had trouble with this. Whenever I raise questions about Schmitt, the answer seems to be “look how well his theory works for Guantanamo Bay”. But how does this make him any different from, say, John Yoo? Not that we shouldn’t study either Yoo or Schmitt, but in the same way as we would study, say, the HIV virus.

21

Michael Bérubé 09.10.08 at 1:40 am

Stalin was pretty damn total, Gorbachev, less so . . . .

But that kind of makes Brenkman’s point about state socialism not really being reformable. Because not long after the reformer got in, after the last three representatives of the gerontocracy had wheezed their last, the whole thing fell apart.

Anyway, let me not breast my cards here. I’m not convinced that Brenkman’s one-page history of Western Marxism works well as an explanation for Why Agamben Matters. But I’m intrigued by that one-page history on its merits, and, in the meantime, willing to entertain other accounts of Agamben’s influence. Actually, in the epilogue to my book, I largely agree with AcademicLurker: “After the Bush Administration’s establishment of Guantánamo as a detention center for ‘enemy combatants,’ the signing of the Presidential Military Order of November 13, 2001 (‘Detention, Treatment, and Trial of Certain Non-Citizens in the War Against Terrorism’), and the U.S. government’s suspension of habeas corpus (formally codified in the Military Commissions Act of 2006), one branch of the theory-left has drawn the obvious conclusion: Carl Schmitt was right — sovereign is he who declares the state of exception. [I even call it an “obvious conclusion”!] Agamben thus appears as the prophet of our era, testifying to the proposition that nothing much has changed in the ‘liberal’ West since the days when Roman law could declare anyone homo sacer. If the President of the United States can suspend the Constitution and override the separation of powers, surely the radical-left critics are right: behind the ‘liberal’ facade of the industrialized democracies, there is a feral totalitarian power waiting to pounce.”

Makes you want to rush right out and order advance copies, don’t it?

As for the fate of Western Marxism, I think that the strains between socialism and democracy are precisely what Stuart Hall was dealing with in the 1980s, and that this is what made his essays in Marxism Today so important — and so vexing to the orthodox Marxists of the day. More about this as history unfolds.

22

Michael Bérubé 09.10.08 at 1:45 am

Is there some third way here? Has Chris Clarke stepped forward to do the graphic novelization of The LAW?

I can’t find Chris Clarke, Ben — he seems to have evaporated into the desert air. So I’ve asked Anthony Giddens to develop a “third way” instead.

About Brenkman replaying Marxism’s teleology and investment in inevitability: hmmmmmm. Could be.

23

Geoff Robinson 09.10.08 at 1:48 am

Didn’t Poulantzas discuss the exceptional state in his late writings? it’s also a theme of the David Forgacs edited book on Italian Fascism I think.

24

John Emerson 09.10.08 at 2:06 am

One of the Straussians called Arendt and Sartre proxies for Heidegger. I’ve wondered whether Strauss hasn’t been a proxy for Schmitt. Some of the Straussians are backing away from the neocons and Bush.

Of course, I’ve also wondered whether the Neocons are the American Jewish followers of Franz Fanon, a shrewder and more successful version of the Black Panthers.

25

AcademicLurker 09.10.08 at 2:07 am

MB:
“the obvious explanation makes sense, and I agree with it. But then this raises an obvious question: if it’s the Bush/Cheney regime you’re (i.e., one is) interested in contesting, then why would you want a theorist who, when confronted by Gitmo, says, “ah, ‘twas ever thus, all the way back to Roman law. Sovereign is he who declares the state of exception”? Why wouldn’t you want someone who acknowledges the theory of the separation of powers, rather than someone who basically endorses the theory of the unitary executive?”

Being a liberal myself, I agree that classical liberal ideas (vigorously rather than gutlessly upheld) are the best answer to Bush/Cheneyism. But in many, and particularly academic, left circles liberalism is as much or more despised than the new radical conservatism.

It’s not so much what Agamben was saying on these subjects (sovereignty, camps, etc.), but the mere fact that he was addressing them. The people who embraced Agamben were not the sort of people who would instinctively reach for John Stuart Mill, or other liberal sources, when pressed to oppose arbitrary detention, torture, and the general Bush-era philosophy of government. So they reached for something that addressed these issues but spoke to them in a way that they could reconcile with their condemnation of liberalism.

26

P O'Neill 09.10.08 at 2:14 am

This is excellent news for Jonah Goldberg.

27

bob mcmanus 09.10.08 at 2:23 am

“So the study as a whole explores the precise character of liberal theory’s indirect denial of intrinsically public communal being, or conversely, its constitutive committment to intrinsically private agency. I try to show why this committment cannot be justified within a liberal conceptual framework and why the rejection of liberalism’s committment to intrinsically private agency calls for a rejection of liberal inquiring practice itself. On a substantive level, it shows
why the elaboration of a philosophy of intrinsicall public communal being is, after all, relevant to our times. On a methodological level, i reveals the potential
limitations of the forms of thought that radically aspiring critiques of liberalism sometimes take.” …Toula Nicolapoulos, The Radical Critique of Liberalism, 2008 available online

During 2003, he delivered a lecture describing the eclipse that politics has undergone. Instead of leaving a space between law and life, the space where human action is possible, the space that used to constitute politics, he argues that politics has “contaminated itself with law” in the state of exception. Because “only human action is able to cut the relationship between violence and law”, it becomes increasingly difficult within the state of exception for humanity to act against the State[9]

…Wikipedia Agamben article

The connection of Schmitt to Agamben is more about zoe and bios than the state of exception, and how liberalism by denying intrinsic public communal being simultaneously destroys private agency.

This blog needs preview, and I expect this comment to get moderated away. I thought I was banned.

28

bob mcmanus 09.10.08 at 2:37 am

And, John, that I have great difficulty espousing alternatives to liberalism is kinda the point. I am a liberal in a world consumed by a liberalism that has appropriated all possible thinkable forms of political action.

How do we get back the bonuses from the investment bankers, who almost certainly acted within the law? It is not only practically impossible, it is most likely theoretically impossible in a just liberal democracy.

How do we keep Bush from bombing Iran tomorrow? The consensus is that we can’t, but liberals would say that any means to do so would cost more than it’s worth. The process and ideals are themselves worth millions of lives.

Looks very close to a totalitariaism or theocracy to me. Foundational principles cannot be questioned.

29

John Emerson 09.10.08 at 2:54 am

As far as I know, foundational principles cannot be questioned anywhere, except at rare transitional moments. I’d b happy to find an alternative, but I don’t think that it’s to be found in the Benjamin-Schmitt-Strauss-Arendt-Agamben-Zizek complex, and you can throw in Adorno too.

30

brooksfoe 09.10.08 at 3:21 am

I haven’t read Agamben (feel free to disregard remainder of comment) but from the description here, it seems to me that I encounter his disciples or fellow travelers literally every day in the comments threads at Megan McArdle’s blog, and they don’t come from the left. Check how long it takes on a right-libertarian blog before someone objects to any measures aimed at, oh, encouraging public transit as “forcing them” to do something “at gunpoint”. (Notably, most such commenters are less hostile to measures which involve government agents literally, rather than metaphorically, forcing people to do things at gunpoint. But that’s not always true; there are a fair number of intellectually consistent right-libertarians out there.)

31

bob mcmanus 09.10.08 at 3:44 am

I have read some Agamben, more than Homo Sacer

I have a copy of Concept of the Political but I hadn’t read it yet, and lo, right around the third paragraph I see a connection, at least in my understanding, to Agamben.

“The equation state = politics becomes erroneous and deceptive at exactly the moment when state and society penetrate each other…blah blah…Heretofore ostensibly neutral domains–religion, culture, education, the economy–then cease to be neutral in the sense that they do not pertain to state and to politics. As a polemical concept against such neutralization and depoliticization of important domains appears the total state, which potentially embraces every domain. This results in the identity of state and society. In such a state, everything is at least potentially political and in referring to the state it is no longer possible to assert for it a specifically political characteristic.” …George Schwab trans. Umm, this is descriptive, not prescriptive

If you can’t see Agamben in that you need to read him some more.

And hell yes, both the right and the left will, if not completely brainwashed by the Berubes, Puchalskys and Burkes into kissing their velvet chains, will feel alienated and subsumed.

Enough.

32

aaron 09.10.08 at 4:34 am

It seems to me that the Cold War sustained interest in Western Marxism, making the conflict between different sorts of states and labor-capital relationships the central social question. So I’d argue that Western Marxism didn’t do anything “wrong” after the Soviet Union collapsed, it never really justified its popularity in the first place. It may be valuable as a perspective, but its weaknesses as a school of thought had been visible for quite some time.

Into the breach stepped theorists like Foucault, Agamben, etc, because they focused on the abstract “state”, rather than the capitalist, democratic, or socialist state, and “society” rather than more specific societies. I haven’t really read enough Agamben to comment on his nuances. But Bob–the passage you quote doesn’t appear to have any uniquely Agambenian concepts. His most distinct ideas, I would argue, lie in concepts such as “bare life” rather than his arguments about the intermingling of politics and other areas of society.

The emergence of the Agamben phenomenon doesn’t appear that strange–he’s an interesting think after all. Sort of like Zizek. When a thinker says interesting and controversial things, and appears to offer an account of current events, their popularity doesn’t require much explaining.

33

abb1 09.10.08 at 7:34 am

The Soviet Union was an experiment, completely new socio-economic system (unless you count brief/obscure precedents like 6th century Persia). It went totalitarian for about 17 years (1936-1953) out of 70. He would have a better case calling American-led capitalism ‘slave-owning’ instead of ‘democratic’.

This silly ‘democratic vs. totalitarian’ framing is simply a bunch of dogmatic nonsense. When I lived in the Soviet Union people freely and openly discussed and cursed their government virtually everywhere – at work, in a pub, on a bus – all the time. And when I lived in the US, I saw ordinary people being indeed very reluctant (afraid?) to talk politics in virtually any setting; only with close friends or relatives. Which one sounds more totalitarian?

Seriously, I suggest he might want to take another look at the economics of this thing. You know, the good stuff.

34

Lex 09.10.08 at 7:48 am

“How do we keep Bush from bombing Iran tomorrow? The consensus is that we can’t, but liberals would say that any means to do so would cost more than it’s worth.”

Here you wander into the realms of the absurd. GWB is POTUS. To prevent him exercising the powers inherent in that role, including that of military command, if he was indeed determined to whack the ayatollahs, requires either a) a coup d’etat by military or civilian elements opposed to bomb-crazed plans; b) mass resignation/sit-down strike of the US armed forces; or c) mass political mobilisation of the civilian population on a scale such as to provoke real fear of civil war.

Of the three, all are unlikely [and I discount other even more unlikely suppositions, such as a realistic threat by France, e.g., to use a nuclear strike in defence of Iran…]. Their unlikeliness derives from a multitude of factors, not least of which is the unwillingness of ordinary individuals to risk their lives and positions to defend people they don’t know and probably wouldn’t like.

What I can’t see in all of that is what blaming token generic ‘liberals’ for the problem has to do with it. They didn’t vote for the f*cker. Or are you saying that the very concept of a constitutional republic is so bad, compared to your unspoken alternative, that everyone all the way back to Ben Franklin has to take the rap for GWB? Everyone, that is, except you, apparently.

35

Dave 09.10.08 at 7:51 am

Dear abb1, why don’t you turn your thesis that the USSR in the second half of the 20th century was less totalitarian that the USA into a book? If you had to explore the point in detail, you might start to understand why everyone else thinks it’s daft.

36

abb1 09.10.08 at 8:12 am

@34, that is not my thesis, though. My thesis is simply that contraposing American capitalism and Soviet socialism as democracy vs. totalitarianism is nonsense, dogmatic nonsense. Framing imposed by indoctrination; framing that doesn’t help you discover that illusive “explanatory root of society, politics, and history”. Rather it obscures it.

And that’s the whole book, all she wrote.

37

abb1 09.10.08 at 8:14 am

Ooops, used a forbidden word. Here it is again:

@34, that is not my thesis, though. My thesis is simply that contraposing American capitalism and Soviet soc1alism as democracy vs. totalitarianism is nonsense, dogmatic nonsense. Framing imposed by indoctrination; framing that doesn’t help you discover that illusive “explanatory root of society, politics, and history”. Rather it obscures it.

And that’s the whole book, all she wrote.

38

IM 09.10.08 at 10:26 am

Regarding totalitarian societies: One shouldn’t overuse this word. Dictators and autoritarian governments were after all not a new thing in the 20th century. Not any old dictatorship aspires or achieves the status of totaliarism.
I remember that even in the eighties it was discussed if the Soviet Union and China were developing from totalitarian to authoritarian societies. And in a way it happened in both societies. Freedom House, that old commie institution at the end of the eighties did upgrade Hungary from unfree to half free status. And Hungary was until 1956 as good a totalitarian society as any other.
The political history of Italy on the other hand from the march on rome until the early thirties can be described as a development of an authoritarianto a totalitarian state.

So it can be argued that the SU wasn’t a totalitarian state from the sixties or so

39

Michael Bérubé 09.10.08 at 11:25 am

if not completely brainwashed by the Berubes, Puchalskys and Burkes into kissing their velvet chains

Rich? Tim? You heard the man — we have work to do!

40

Ben Alpers 09.10.08 at 11:43 am

I, for one, welcome our dangeral overlords!

41

novakant 09.10.08 at 12:06 pm

none of them believed in falsifiability. That’s why they were decisionists.

I don’t get this.

Firstly, Popper’s concept of falsifiability is highly controversial within the scientific community/philosophy of science.

Secondly (and more importantly), transferring a concept designed to regulate scientific discourse to the realm of ethics/political philosophy is highly dubious, because the former is descriptive, while the latter is prescriptive (very generally speaking of course). How do you falsify an ideology or an ethical framework? You can point out flaws, deconstruct it and engage in Ideologiekritik of course – but falsify?

Thirdly, there’s a wide range between strictly adhering to the concept of falsifiability and subscribing to decisionism.

42

John Emerson 09.10.08 at 12:25 pm

I was responding to Bob’s assertion that liberal capitalism is unfalsifiable. My point was about the same as yours, that falsification is not relevant to the debate. “That’s why” was an overstatement.

43

Stuart 09.10.08 at 12:44 pm

Why did Marxism have the ground cut from beneath it with the collapse of Soviet communism even though it had lent little or no support to the Soviet Union?

Isn’t Marxism generally treated similarly to the Free Market cults – any time their is a failure that is assigned to either, it is just proof the subject was not Marxist/free enough, and doesn’t disprove the principle.

44

J Thomas 09.10.08 at 1:04 pm

Novakant, ideologies tend to contain descriptions too, and in theory those could be falsifiable. In practice it’s harder, of course.

So for example the capitalist ideology says, in my own words:

Capitalism contains feedback loops. Therefore anything in a capitalist society which is not optimal will be optimised. Furthermore, capitalism’s feedback loops are the best feedback loops — no other system can optimise as well.

This claim is potentially testable, given the resources to do controlled experiments. Of course, the claim that capitalism does not optimise its feedback loops because of government, and in an ideal anarchy it would optimise its feedback loops far far better than it does anywhere in the world today, is probably not testable.

Similarly the claim that Jesus will come back and bring wondrous events by 1000 AD or by 2000 AD has been tested. There has been no comet that poisoned a third of the water of the earth etc. It hasn’t happened yet. At best they got the dates wrong.

The prescriptive things are not falsifiable. If capitalist economists say that the optimal economy includes a business cycle with perodic recessions that are necessary to drive marginal businesses into bankruptcy and free up resources, and this is a good thing, then there’s no falsifying it. You can have opinions whether it’s a good thing. You can’t falsify those opinions.

I’m afraid meme theory fits better. People hold political views until they get compelling reason not to. The existence of the USSR validated socialist opinions, because there were nations that officially held those beliefs and that made them somehow respectable in ways that libertarian notions are not. No libertarian society has ever functioned anywhere. That gives it a crackpot status. While there were large well-armed officially-socialist societies, it made socialism more respectable than libertarianism. Even though those societies did not actually fit socialist doctrines.

If almost all the democracies were to collapse, perhaps through coup etc, most people would stop taking democracy seriously. “It seems like a good idea but it just doesn’t fit reality. Maybe good-hearted people could make democracy work at the end of time, but not in the real world.” “Democracy has been tried and it didn’t work. See, no democracies in the real world. It’s a beautiful theory but it can’t work in reality.”

Democracy gets legitimacy because there are nations that claim to be democratic. Same thing with the other doctrines. The memes spread easier from an established base.

45

J Thomas 09.10.08 at 1:06 pm

Novakant, ideologies tend to contain descriptions too, and in theory those could be falsifiable. In practice it’s harder, of course.

So for example the capitalist ideology says, in my own words:

Capitalism contains feedback loops. Therefore anything in a capitalist society which is not optimal will be optimised. Furthermore, capitalism’s feedback loops are the best feedback loops—no other system can optimise as well.

This claim is potentially testable, given the resources to do controlled experiments. Of course, the claim that capitalism does not optimise its feedback loops because of government, and in an ideal anarchy it would optimise its feedback loops far far better than it does anywhere in the world today, is probably not testable.

Similarly the claim that Jesus will come back and bring wondrous events by 1000 AD or by 2000 AD has been tested. There has been no comet that poisoned a third of the water of the earth etc. It hasn’t happened yet. At best they got the dates wrong.

The prescriptive things are not falsifiable. If capitalist economists say that the optimal economy includes a business cycle with perodic recessions that are necessary to drive marginal businesses into bankruptcy and free up resources, and this is a good thing, then there’s no falsifying it. You can have opinions whether it’s a good thing. You can’t falsify those opinions.

I’m afraid meme theory fits better. People hold political views until they get compelling reason not to. The existence of the USSR validated social1st opinions, because there were nations that officially held those beliefs and that made them somehow respectable in ways that libertarian notions are not. No libertarian society has ever functioned anywhere. That gives it a crackpot status. While there were large well-armed officially-social1st societies, it made social1sm more respectable than libertarianism. Even though those societies did not actually fit social1st doctrines.

If almost all the democracies were to collapse, perhaps through coup etc, most people would stop taking democracy seriously. “It seems like a good idea but it just doesn’t fit reality. Maybe good-hearted people could make democracy work at the end of time, but not in the real world.” “Democracy has been tried and it failed. See, no democracies in the real world. And when you look at history, see how badly democracies worked in practice! All gerrymandering and earmarking and lobbying. It’s a beautiful theory but it can’t work in reality.”

Democracy gets legitimacy because there are nations that claim to be democratic. Same thing with the other doctrines. The memes spread easier from an established base.

46

abb1 09.10.08 at 1:39 pm

I think it’s helpful to identify two parts of Marxism (more specifically, historical materialism): the methodology/explanatory part and the predictions. I think the methodology explains the existing phenomena reasonably well, and predictions, of course, is a speculative business. And so, I don’t see how the USSR disproves anything any more than, say, extinction of the dinosaurs disproves the theory of evolution.

47

Timothy Burke 09.10.08 at 1:43 pm

But my velvet chains look so pretty on me that I don’t want to share them. They go well with my eyes especially, I think.

48

Lex 09.10.08 at 2:07 pm

Why would anyone want a Marxism which precludes prediction? It would seem to leave one with nothing to do except sit around and say “Ooh, look, capitalism, nasty!” That is, if you’re the sort of materialist who chooses to dislike capitalism. You could equally well be the sort who thinks it’s great, and says, “Hey, look, my class is acting it its own interests, and you’re f*cked, wahoo!”

A merely descriptive Marxism is surely just that, merely descriptive, and I’m sure Marx said that the point was to change the world, didn’t he? Not that I want to fetishise foundations, or anything.

49

Rich Puchalsky 09.10.08 at 2:20 pm

If Michael is still reading this far down, I want to comment on this:

“If the President of the United States can suspend the Constitution and override the separation of powers, surely the radical-left critics are right: behind the ‘liberal’ facade of the industrialized democracies, there is a feral totalitarian power waiting to pounce.”

No, no, no. The reason the radical-left critics aren’t right is because Bush/Cheneyism is a failure, as well as being a feral totalitarian power. If sovereign was he who declared the state of exception, then Bush would have increased his power by doing these things. In actual fact, Cheneyism appears to be crashing and burning. (That claim is subject to empirical disproof, of course.) Contemporary societies really are not well-suited to being controlled by people who rely on tricks like declaring a state of exception. They’ll work, in the short term, but they really aren’t the fundamental principle of democratic politics. And the reason that radical left critics don’t get that is because, in general, they don’t understand or approve of democratic politics either.

As for the fetish gear, would velvet chains even clink, or would they always be excitingly silent as they slid smoothly over … wait, what was I thinking about again? Something about politics.

More seriously, these sweeping critiques of state power don’t make any sense for socialism, which requires a state. I’m a left-liberal because it’s the available alternative that appears to be better than all the others, at least for the U.S. in the contemporary moment. But I would see the eventual goal of my work as leading to some kind of left anarchism. If I don’t know exactly how that would work, that’s fine; I’m not the one who needs to personally come up with all the answers for everybody. But just because I’m a left-liberal and work for that doesn’t mean that I think that it’s the best possible politics 4EVA. And people who do think that nothing else is possible are just showing their lack of imagination.

50

abb1 09.10.08 at 2:37 pm

Well, you have a methodology, an analytical tool. That’s already a lot. You’ve chosen your version of “the root of society, of politics, of history”, and if you’re satisfied that it gives you a reasonable explanation of the present, then you can even venture to make some predictions. Of a general nature. What do you want – a Crystal Ball?

51

christian h. 09.10.08 at 2:52 pm

Isn’t Marxism generally treated similarly to the Free Market cults – any time their is a failure that is assigned to either, it is just proof the subject was not Marxist/free enough, and doesn’t disprove the principle.

Smug liberals are great. All of us – Marxists, liberals, conservatives, libertarians – use this kind of argument. Maybe Michael finally wised up while writing his book, but he used to support “humanitarian intervention” in principle, as do many other liberals, despite the horrendous record of actually-existing such wars.

52

John Meredith 09.10.08 at 2:59 pm

“When I lived in the Soviet Union people freely and openly discussed and cursed their government virtually everywhere – at work, in a pub, on a bus – all the time.”

Abb1, it was not, by all accounts, at all uncommon to hear complaints about the government even in the thirties (‘if only comrade Stalin knew!’) and there were vigorous complaints made to the Nazi authorities by German citizens about abuses at home and abroad. But both regimes were, by most accounts, totalitarian. How often in your time in the USSR did you hear people publicly (on buses, in pubs, at work) discussing what they were going to do to remove or replace the government? Licence to do that would tell us more about its character, I think

53

Michael Bérubé 09.10.08 at 3:03 pm

Maybe Michael finally wised up while writing his book

If by “wised up” you mean “came around to agreeing that the right thing for the international community to do, in the face of ethnic cleansing and genocide, is (a) nothing or (b) form a committee to defend Slobodan Milosevic,” I’m sorry I’m going to have to disappoint you again, christian. In fact, in the course of writing the book I tried to imagine a 1980s left that said, “what’s happening in El Salvador is a civil war, and we have no business taking sides in a civil dispute within a sovereign nation,” but I came up empty on that score. I did, however, find a most interesting argument in Brenkman — that despite what everyone thinks they know about (on one hand) humanitarian intervention and (on the other) about Thomas Hobbes, the Hobbesian idea of sovereignty actually lies at the bottom of the idea of a “responsibility to protect”: to wit, not the Agamben/Schmitt sovereign is he who declares the state of exception but the Leviathan’s sovereign is he who protects the multitude.

54

abb1 09.10.08 at 3:38 pm

In the 80s it wasn’t “if only comrade Brezhnev knew!”. It was mostly bitter sarcasm, if not pure hatred. Very much open.

discussing what they were going to do to remove or replace the government

What do you mean by “remove or replace the government”? It’s not the government we are talking about here, it’s the socio-economic system. I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a discussion in the US about how to replace its socio-economic system.

Wait, sorry, I did hear people on DemocracyNow the other day saying “I personally believe that capitalism is a problem”. Those, I understand, were the fellows arrested in Minneapolis and charged with “Conspiracy to Riot”.

55

John Meredith 09.10.08 at 3:52 pm

“What do you mean by “remove or replace the government”? “

I think it is fairly self-explanatory. Did you ever hear, for example, one Russian suggest to another Russian that he join his new oppositional political party?

“It’s not the government we are talking about here, it’s the socio-economic system. I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a discussion in the US about how to replace its socio-economic system.”

Well, I don’t spend much time in the US, but I am betting that the Communist Party for one do just that (or did).

“Wait, sorry, I did hear people on DemocracyNow the other day saying “I personally believe that capitalism is a problem”. “

And were they arrested (leaving aside whether or not they ere convicted earlier for conspiracy to riot)? How often did you hear similar sentiments expressed about Socialism/Communism on or in the Soviet media?

56

John Emerson 09.10.08 at 4:43 pm

52: According to Strauss, Schmitt’s problem was that he was too close to Strauss on that point. If I understand Strauss correctly, government is to serve no utilitarian purpose, nor need it benefit or respond to the populace. It’s a thing in itself and the ultimate source of value, except that it ideally should serve the true philosophers.

I’m still waiting for a Straussian to come along and explain this all to us. You have to read between the lines, but I read between the lines differently than the true believers do. Straussians claim to have an enormous admiration for Lincoln, but I think that it’s just because he suspended habeas corpus. I can’t imagine what they’d make of “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

57

John Emerson 09.10.08 at 4:49 pm

“Too close to Hobbes….” Believe it or not, it’s caffeine and not alcohol that makes me do these things.

58

christian h. 09.10.08 at 5:15 pm

Michael, yeah I didn’t really expect you to change your mind. I’m somewhat baffled by the El Salvador example, though. The US did take a side – the wrong one. I maintain that an advanced capitalist state is fundamentally incapable to engage in the kinds of humanitarian missions you seem to envision.

To turn your favorite example on its feet, if Sweden was the US – it wouldn’t be Sweden anymore.

Meaning, your position sadly just supplies an excuse to keep all those shiny weapons that can, and will, then be used for decidedly non-humanitarian purposes…

How’s the good war going, by the way? Pakistan stabilized yet? The women liberated?

59

noen 09.10.08 at 5:24 pm

“When I lived in the Soviet Union people freely and openly discussed and cursed their government virtually everywhere – at work, in a pub, on a bus – all the time.”

Which only serves to demonstrate just how total state power had become. If I am the totalitarian State your curses are music to my ears. I delight in them as they serve to validate to me your complete subjugation.

60

noen 09.10.08 at 5:35 pm

Those, I understand, were the fellows arrested in Minneapolis and charged with “Conspiracy to Riot”.

St. Paul not Minneapolis. Amy Goodman was not ultimately charged with conspiracy to riot but with obstructing an officer. The video of her arrest does not support her version of events. It clearly shows the riot officer ordering her to the sidewalk three times. She ignored him and tried to break the line they had established. That’s when she was arrested. This was an illegal demonstration and the police were trying to keep it from becoming a full riot.

61

abb1 09.10.08 at 5:39 pm

John Meredith,
the charge is, actually, “Conspiracy to Riot in Furtherance of Terrorism”:

In what appears to be the first use of criminal charges under the 2002 Minnesota version of the Federal Patriot Act, Ramsey County Prosecutors have formally charged 8 alleged leaders of the RNC Welcoming Committee with Conspiracy to Riot in Furtherance of Terrorism. Monica Bicking, Eryn Trimmer, Luce Guillen Givins, Erik Oseland, Nathanael Secor, Robert Czernik, Garrett Fitzgerald, and Max Spector, face up to 7 1/2 years in prison under the terrorism enhancement charge which allows for a 50% increase in the maximum penalty.

Did you ever hear, for example, one Russian suggest to another Russian that he join his new oppositional political party?

No, but you’re missing the point again. They were smarter than that. You can have one party, two parties, three parties (as they did in communist Poland), or ten million parties – it’s all the same shit, as long as they all serve the same group, same socio-economic class, or whatever you want to call it. Exchanging McCain for Obama doesn’t do you any good; not much good anyway.

62

abb1 09.10.08 at 6:13 pm

Here’s “Furtherance of Terrorism” link: http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article20690.htm

And noen: If I am the totalitarian State your curses are music to my ears.

Sorry, but you don’t know whatcha talking about.

63

Maud 09.10.08 at 7:30 pm

Michael –

Though the Creek no longer runs, Chris Clarke is still reachable at his new site:
Coyote Crossing There’s a contact link at the top. I emailed him at that address a month or so ago to request to be allowed to register at the site and he responded promptly. Alternately, you can just follow the registration procedure. After he clears your registration you can then post a comment in the Coyote Den section.

All I got to say about Brenkman is, heat or no heat, I think Jamie had a lot more fun in Vegas than you did.

64

June16_1904 09.10.08 at 8:00 pm

“Michael, yeah I didn’t really expect you to change your mind. I’m somewhat baffled by the El Salvador example, though. The US did take a side – the wrong one.”

christian h. , I think Berube is talking about the response of the Amerian left. Ever heard of CISPES?

65

christian h. 09.10.08 at 8:34 pm

June16_1904, and what does this reaction of the Left have to do with “humanitarian intervention”, an action taken by the military forces of states? Nothing whatsoever. CISPES, of course, has always worked against US intervention in El Salvador, not for it.

I refuse to believe Michael won’t acknowledge a difference between popular solidarity and military intervention. Engaging in the former does not necessitate support for the latter.

66

June16_1904 09.10.08 at 9:41 pm

Well, I don’t mean to speak for Berube. I was only pointing out that intervention can mean more than bombs. Kofi Annan certainly has a different idea of what “humanitarian intervention” means than you do. Look at his recent foray into Kenya. I find it odd that you put forward the Bush Administration’s method as the only version possible. Are you so sure that all advoates of humanitarian intervention envision brining democray by tank to the world?
CISPES isn’t simply for nonintervention by the US governement. They support the FMLN. That’s certainly a form of intervention. Supporting a foreign political party in the name of a more humanitarian social order in their country sounds like “humanitarian intervention” to me.

67

June16_1904 09.10.08 at 9:43 pm

Sorry for the spelling errors. I’m a little drunk and on a laptop. Unfamiliar keypad. The “C” seems to stik.

68

abb1 09.10.08 at 9:52 pm

According to wikipedia

Humanitarian intervention refers to armed interference in one state by another state(s) with the stated objective of ending or reducing suffering within the first state.

What’s the source of your definition? And what’s your term for “armed interference in one state by another state(s) with the stated objective of ending or reducing suffering”?

69

abb1 09.10.08 at 9:54 pm

Other than “Bush Administration’s method”, that is.

70

June16_1904 09.10.08 at 10:04 pm

I call those “invasions”

71

abb1 09.10.08 at 10:23 pm

OK, then! You’re with the Appeasers, Ivory Tower Elitists and Islamofascists!

72

Matt L 09.10.08 at 10:46 pm

Two days and a dollar short, but I want to chime in on the one-page history of western Marxism Berube led with.

I am not so sure that you can tie the end of Western Marxism to the collapse of State Socialism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. By the 1980s, western Marxism is decadent in the sense that all of its theoretical possibilities have played themselves out. So people try to revive the patient with liberal doses of Lacan, Foucault and Derrida. The result is a sort of hybrid “Marxism plus something else”, that really had moved away from the fundamental economic and political concerns that animated Marx himself a hundred and fifty years earlier.

More simply, I think Marxist theory was already irrelevant before 1989. It just took the Soviet collapse to give its western practitioners an opportunity to discard it. After that, why not consort with Nazis like Schmitt? The Nazis were radicals and a provocative challenge to the liberal capitalist order.

73

noen 09.10.08 at 10:49 pm

Sorry, but you don’t know whatcha talking about.

You’re right, I’m sorry. I don’t have your direct experience.

74

christian h. 09.10.08 at 11:26 pm

Well, I’d agree that the common usage of the term “humanitarian intervention” is itself overly narrow and propagandistic – nevertheless, that’s the way the term is being used, and the way I meant to use it, given that Michael did support the assault on Serbia in ’99 and the invasion of Afghanistan.

75

Dave Latchaw 09.11.08 at 3:58 am

Are superior people naturally attracted to drumming or does drumming just make one a better person? I’ve never been able to figure this out. Maybe a combination of both.

76

abb1 09.11.08 at 2:00 pm

More simply, I think Marxist theory was already irrelevant before 1989.

How can a theory be relevant or irrelevant, and what do you mean by “its theoretical possibilities”? Either it does explain the world or it doesn’t. When will Newtonian mechanics become irrelevant?

Or do you mean that Marxism is something like the Ptolemaic model? Then who is its Copernicus, is it this Schmitt guy?

77

Lex 09.11.08 at 2:14 pm

In the absence of a prior and externally-derived commitment to idealistic abstractions like ‘justice’ and ‘equality’, Marxism, especially Marxism without the prediction of a future proletarian revolution, ‘explains the world’ in such a fashion as to make it impossible to change anything – the bosses control the levers of material power, the workers are dupes of false consciousness, alienation flourishes, exploitation reigns. In that world, why would anyone not want to bully their way into the ruling class? There’s no alternative, apparently.

This seems to be the route taken by what was once the RCP in the UK, who have become ‘Spiked’, and now shill for the multinationals.

78

Michael Bérubé 09.11.08 at 2:24 pm

Bloomsday @ 66: Well, I don’t mean to speak for Berube. I was only pointing out that intervention can mean more than bombs. Kofi Annan certainly has a different idea of what “humanitarian intervention” means than you do. . . . CISPES isn’t simply for nonintervention by the US governement. They support the FMLN. That’s certainly a form of intervention. Supporting a foreign political party in the name of a more humanitarian social order in their country sounds like “humanitarian intervention” to me.

Actually, m’fren’, you just did a pretty fine job of speaking for me. Thanks! I was on a plane to Nashville and couldn’t speak Internets for a few hours. But you should know that christian and I go way back, and this is a little game we play. He pretends to think that I support the idea of a Responsibility to Protect because I want to use it to justify US imperialism, and I pretend to call him an apologist for ethnic cleansing (you know, using phrases like “the assault on Serbia,” because Serbia was simply whistling show tunes to itself on the street corner when this NATO thug came along and beat it senseless), and then we go get a beer. It’s just what we do — why, after our last drunken argument on the train tracks in east Champaign, we both said, dude, we’ll always have the Balkans. And we will.

Though, for the record, I never actually said that war was the best form of humanitarian intervention, and never claimed that war in Afghanistan was a humanitarian intervention. Because the first would be insane and the second would be silly. I just get a tad annoyed at “leftists” who invoke Serbian sovereignty as an excuse for doing nothing in the Balkans (and thereby effectively siding with Milosevic and company, because, to cop a phrase from Howard Zinn, you can’t be neutral on a moving genocide) — something no US leftist would have done wrt El Salvador 25 years ago, or Spain 70 years ago.

As for that western Marxism: I think Lex @ 48 is onto something, and it’s not just about Marxism’s predictive value. I have in my back pocket a recent interview with Stuart Hall (which I’ll share with the class in a bit) that says so in so many words, but basically, the idea is this: even as merely an interpretive project, Marxism didn’t want to stop at saying “capitalism is nasty.” It was always tied to the idea of actually existing alternatives. So the collapse of the USSR had far more profound effects than I could have imagined; at the time, I thought it would free western Marxism from the Soviet albatross. I was wrong.

Maud @ 63: yeah, I know dear Chris is still among us. Thanks for putting up the link, tho! And you bring up an interesting point — by posting my poolside reading here, I violated the “what you read in Vegas stays in Vegas” rule. But a fun time was had by all.

Are superior people naturally attracted to drumming or does drumming just make one a better person? I’ve never been able to figure this out. Maybe a combination of both.

I’ve never been an either-or kind of blogger.

79

christian h. 09.11.08 at 2:46 pm

For the record: I don’t think Michael intends to support imperialism. I do think his policy prescriptions advance imperialist goals and methods. Also, I have never defended Milosevic, individually or as part of any committee.

I am still calling bullshit on the El Salvador example. I guess I just fundamentally disagree with Michael’s idea that a country like the US could just wake up one day and decide to not be imperialist, but be all humanitarian instead. Then again, I am a believer in all those Marxism thingies that are, like, totally dead.

80

Donald Johnson 09.11.08 at 3:11 pm

“I just get a tad annoyed at “leftists” who invoke Serbian sovereignty as an excuse for doing nothing in the Balkans (and thereby effectively siding with Milosevic and company, because, to cop a phrase from Howard Zinn, you can’t be neutral on a moving genocide)—something no US leftist would have done wrt El Salvador 25 years ago, or Spain 70 years ago.”

You’re probably right about Spain–lefties probably would have wanted military intervention by western governments, but I’m guessing they wouldn’t have expected it, so they went on their own. As for El Salvador, the idea of Western military intervention against the government was so far outside the range of possibility that I don’t know of anyone ever bringing it up.

Which supports what christian h says in post 79.

81

Rich Puchalsky 09.11.08 at 3:21 pm

Jeez, everyone gets a reply except me when I argue with the actual text of the book that Michael is writing about this. Boo hoo. I should start some long-running blame-fest of Michael for, I don’t know, denying 9/11 Truth or something else ridiculous. Then I’d get that attention that I so crave.

82

abb1 09.11.08 at 3:30 pm

Marxism (and again, I’m talking about historical materialism, dialectical materialism) doesn’t say anything about capitalism being nasty, just like Newtonian mechanics doesn’t talk about quickly accelerating objects being nasty.

Marxism is talking about things like labor and capital and division of labor; productive forces and social relations, their evolution and dialectical connections between them.

And all the moral judgments are, of course, the sole responsibility of each individual practitioner.

83

engels 09.11.08 at 5:51 pm

Lex, are you really saying that any political theory which does not make predictions amounts to no more than futile whingeing? John Rawls and thousands of other first-order normative political theorists are going to be very disappointed, you know…

Marxism is essentially teleological Er, ever heard of Louis Althusser? More recently, look at the debates between G.A. Cohen and other analytic Marxists, most of whom reject historical materialism. You seem to have mistakenly identified Marxism with one particular strain of Hegelian inflected Marxism à la Lukács.

Rich Puchalsky: if the struggle between classes or the labor theory of value are actually wrong, then Marxism is wrong … if your politics is based on a theory, and the theory just doesn’t work, well… Marxism is not ‘based on’ the labour theory of value. The labour theory of value is a relatively peripheral theoretical commitment which can be abandoned while maintaining a theory that is recognisably Marxist. (Even the Marxian critique of exploitation does not depend on the labour theory of value, as Cohen eg. has shown.) As for non-existence of class struggle: when and where was this proven exactly? (The three quarters of the British population who think otherwise, according a series of Gallup polls, will surely be grateful to you for setting them straight…)

84

christian h. 09.11.08 at 6:31 pm

I just get a tad annoyed at “leftists” who invoke Serbian sovereignty as an excuse for doing nothing in the Balkans (and thereby effectively siding with Milosevic and company, because, to cop a phrase from Howard Zinn, you can’t be neutral on a moving genocide)—something no US leftist would have done wrt El Salvador 25 years ago, or Spain 70 years ago.

Michael, you aren’t claiming that “not bombing Serbia” is the same as “doing nothing”, are you? After all, that, to quote you out of context, would be “silly”.

And no serious discussion should be had without the word “genocide”. It’s such a useful way to demonize those you intend to kill, and those who oppose said killing.

For example, if you took the murder of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, the displacement of millions, or the violent depopulation of whole cities like Fallujah as “genocide” just because these crimes dwarf the ones committed in Bosnia, then you might have to take sides (staying neutral is wrong, after all) and support those who resist, or even go out and call for Russia to bomb the US.

But that would be getting your hands dirty (it would mean supporting illiberal forces instead of those paragons of virtue, the US Air Force), and we can’t have that. So conveniently, it’s only the much smaller crime that will be labeled “genocide”.

I hope Michael’s book will have better arguments than simply shouting “genocide” at the top of his lungs, or it’ll be a waste of time. I was actually looking forward to it making al kinds of serious, thoughtful arguments with more care than ever…

85

christian h. 09.11.08 at 6:52 pm

By the way, it goes without saying I don’t agree that the labour theory of value, let alone the theory of class struggle, are “wrong”.

86

milo 09.11.08 at 7:37 pm

I don’t think Agamben is saying it “twas ever thus” exactly. Yes, he is tracing his theory of sovereignty back to Roman law, but there is also a sense that there is something new–that the state of exception has become the rule, that Aristotle’s distinction between bios and zoe is no longer operative. So we are in this new era of biopolitics in which natural or bare life has become political. Power is no longer top-down. You get something very similar in Negri and of course they both emerge from the same Italian scene, but Agamben is the much darker prophet. For Negri this entails new forms of resistance no longer reliant on the state. For Agamben, resistance seems to lie only in some obscure poetic gesture. His prose is seductive. It’s like you are gathering pieces toward some puzzle that always remains elusive. And while I totally reject the Heideggarian equation on politics and power, his writing sometimes has the resonance of the best science fiction.

87

John Quiggin 09.11.08 at 8:32 pm

#85 Do any Marxist/Marxian economists still work with the labor theory of value? IIRC, Ernest Mandel defended it, but that was a while back now, and I don’t recall that he did much more than restate the orthodoxy. I’d be interested to read a modern LTV theorist if you can point to one.

88

Michael Bérubé 09.11.08 at 8:52 pm

I hope Michael’s book will have better arguments than simply shouting “genocide” at the top of his lungs, or it’ll be a waste of time.

I’m sorry, was I shouting? My apologies. I thought I was just repeating a word used by the International War Crimes Tribunal, imperialist stooges though they be.

Jeez, everyone gets a reply except me when I argue with the actual text of the book that Michael is writing about this.

But Rich, I agree with you at 4, at 10, and even at 49 (I think you’re misreading my attempt at ventriloquism in “surely the radical-left critics are right”). So my reply is basically “yep.” It’s a kissing-the-velvet kind of thing, doncha know.

89

Colin Danby 09.12.08 at 2:58 am

Not to mention the boot, of shiny shiny leather.

90

Rich Puchalsky 09.12.08 at 3:59 am

OK, yes, I did misunderstand the attempt at ventriloquism, and I wasn’t sure whether you agreed with 49 or not.

That particular syndrome has more general applicability in all sorts of political situations, not only those involving the radical left. Take, say, a conservative who talks about how scary China is. In order to think that China is really scary, you have to implicitly believe that democracy doesn’t work. That a country can do very well without it, and develop indefinitely under more or less autocratic control. The people who believe that Bush has been successful (as opposed to destructive) seem to think that the state of exception can become the rule, as milo puts it above, and that this can be a successful strategy for the people using it in a democratic society, as opposed to one that in the medium term either gets them replaced or leads to a major crash in that society.

91

Walt 09.12.08 at 4:06 am

Engels, it’s a bit much to describe the Marxism of the actual historical Karl Marx as “You seem to have mistakenly identified Marxism with one particular strain of Hegelian inflected Marxism à la Lukács.”

92

geo 09.12.08 at 4:38 am

Michael @ 69: you can’t be neutral on a moving genocide:

I don’t know whether Michael means to suggest by this that Serbian atrocities in Kosovo preceding the NATO intervention amounted to genocide. There were roughly 2000 deaths in Kosovo in 1998, the year before the NATO intervention, around half to two-thirds attributable to the Serbians, and many in response to Kosovo Liberation Army atrocities. Large-scale ethnic cleansing only began after the bombing, and, it can at least be argued, in response to it. There was no “moving genocide” to which the American bombing was a tragically necessary response. More, and more serious, American diplomacy might have prevented the worst atrocities, which, again, followed rather than preceded gthe American bombing.

This is not, obviously (I hope), to “defend” Milosevic or to argue for doing “nothing.”

93

Rich Puchalsky 09.12.08 at 4:51 am

“As for non-existence of class struggle: when and where was this proven exactly?”

Non-existence proven? No. Not observed? Yes. Three quarters of the British population may think otherwise, but three quarters of the U.S. population probably believe in God, and that doesn’t mean that I’m going to start praying to Him to turn aside the next hurricane.

94

J Thomas 09.12.08 at 5:16 am

Hey, if 3/4 of the guys on the football field admit they’re playing football then it’s hard to argue that there’s no football game going on.

It could be the start of a Monty Python skit.

“We’re here in Britain looking for a class struggle, but so far we just haven’t observed one. Hello, here’s somebody, tell me fellow what are you doing?”

“Whya, I’m engaging in class struggle, and thank you for asking.”

“Hmm. How strange. Let’s talk to somebody else. And what do you think you’re doing?”

“I’m doin’ class struggle, guvner.”

“Huh. I’m not talking to *you*. You over there, you haven’t seen any class struggle, have you. No such thing around here.”

“I sure have. Him and him, they’re doing it. I’d be doing class struggle too but my back is bothering me and I’m sitting it out this weekend.”

“Hey you over there. You haven’t seen any class struggle. Right? No class struggle.”

“No, can’t say as I have. They call this class struggle, it’s nothing compared to the way we did it in my day. These younguns, they don’t know how to do it. You call this class struggle, back in the old days we’d call it more like class pattycake. You just can’t get up a good class struggle any more, it’s a generation of wimps.”

“As I was saying, we’re here in Britain looking for the class struggle and there just isn’t any. Nothing to see, move along, move along.”

95

abb1 09.12.08 at 7:34 am

Now, Rich, 93, brings a serious charge against Marxism. If, indeed, contradictions inherent in capitalism have been mitigated to the point where there is no class struggle anymore, then Marxism must have a serious flaw and, indeed, becomes irrelevant, like the Ptolemaic model.

But is it true? No conflict; workers and owners share economic interests, risks, rewards, sacrifices? I think I’d like to hear more about this.

96

Lex 09.12.08 at 7:47 am

Marxism as futile whinging? Let me think long and hard on that…

Yep, think that about sums it up, actually.

To be more precise, without either a clear moral goal or a predictive/prescriptive political element, Marxism is just another small variation on classical political economy. All the oh-so-very-clever people who wasted much of the twentieth century trying to make it more ‘sophisticated’ succeeded only in inserting their collective heads ever-further up their collective rectums, while solving precisely none of their surrounding societies’ pressing problems.

[and if it salves your pride, you can take that for John Rawls too – unless you have a long list of effective Rawlsian public-policy initiatives you can point me to?]

97

abb1 09.12.08 at 8:39 am

while solving precisely none of their surrounding societies’ pressing problems

Huh? What about all those soc1alist parties out there?

98

Lex 09.12.08 at 10:30 am

There are functional political parties today – that is, ones with MPs/deputies and a chance at forming a government – that are Marxist? Really, where? Outside of the occasional Indian state with its own local definition of terms…

Anyway, I believe my point was about ‘sophisticated’ Marxists, for whom we can take ol’ wife-strangler Althusser as our exemplar – what good did he ever do for anyone?

99

abb1 09.12.08 at 12:59 pm

Are there functional political parties today – that is, ones with MPs/deputies and a chance at forming a government – that are Marxist?

Today? It doesn’t matter. All the major social-democratic parties started as Marxist and went to the other (neoliberal/social-democratic) side only 20-25 years ago, which is what this Brenkman guy’s analysis is based on.

20 years is not long enough for the sweeping conclusions like his. Suppose the western world is hit by a severe recession next week – in a few months you’ll see all the old Marxist ideas coming right back, with a vengeance. Even without a big recession, it doesn’t seem (to me, at least) that European-style welfare state is a very stable construct; cracks appear here and there all the time. Give it a few decades more, we’ll see.

100

J Thomas 09.12.08 at 1:52 pm

Suppose the western world is hit by a severe recession next week – in a few months you’ll see all the old Marxist ideas coming right back, with a vengeance.

That’s right! A whole lot of people feel like their theories are validated because there are systems that work.

It’s like believing that newtonian physics must be correct because the moon doesn’t fall out of the sky. But we had thousands of years of watching the moon not fall out of the sky before Newton ever explained it. If people tried to use newtonian physics to keep the moon from falling out of the sky and the result was that the moon did fall out of the sky, there would be reason to think something was wrong….

But then, if there was a severe recession then all kinds of crackpot theories would start sprouting. Lots of americans would say that it was because of government intervention. They believe there’s never ever a recession unless government intervention makes it happen.

Would we be better off with less government intervention? Well, homeopathic medicine got its start because doctors were doing things that killed their patients. Utterly ineffective homeopathic doses were better than standard treatment. Sometimes it’s that way with government too. I’m pretty sure the US economy would be better off today if Bush had spent 8 years doing nothing at all.

101

Rich Puchalsky 09.12.08 at 1:54 pm

“But is it true? No conflict; workers and owners share economic interests, risks, rewards, sacrifices? I think I’d like to hear more about this.”

Oh, come on, abb1. Class struggle has a specific meaning. It doesn’t mean that a) there is no conflict within society, b) that everyone in society has the same economic interests, c) that there are no rich people and no poor people, d) that rich people do not attempt to oppress others, etc.

But what, specifically, are those 3/4 of British people who think that there is class struggle actually doing? Voting Labor?

102

Rich Puchalsky 09.12.08 at 1:55 pm

Oops — in the comment above “It doesn’t mean” should read “The absence of class struggle doesn’t mean”.

103

Michael Bérubé 09.12.08 at 2:04 pm

I don’t know whether Michael means to suggest by this that Serbian atrocities in Kosovo preceding the NATO intervention amounted to genocide.

No, I’m just reminding Christian that the International War Crimes Tribunal determined that what happened at Srebenica was genocide (which is why Ed Herman, Diana Johnstone et al. now have a little cottage industry devoted to Srebenica-denial, and Johnstone speaks venomously of a “Srebenica mourning cult”). More generally, noting that the refusal to intervene in Rwanda effectively weighed in on the side of the Hutu. And as I’ve noted before in bloggy disputes about such things, “intervention” in Rwanda need not have been military; simply jamming the radio station would have made a world of difference. But then, this argument rarely gets anywhere with people who like to pretend that I think of the US Air Force as paragons of virtue.

104

abb1 09.12.08 at 2:20 pm

Rich, is there still labor and capital, work and rent? If so, is there a conflict between them, or, perhaps, due to the pension funds, government programs, widely available profit-sharing/shock options plans and so on it’s all mixed and mingled now?

J Thomas, let me suggest this metaphor: the moon was right there in the sky for a couple of hundred years, big, bright and obvious. Then in the last 15 years or so it got a little blurry and hard to see (at least from some places; if you care you’ll still find it shining bright a few miles to the South) – and so: the moon must be gone forever now.

Well, again, I’ll say: give it some time, let’s check again in 40-50 years or so.

105

Rich Puchalsky 09.12.08 at 2:51 pm

abb1, again, why this weird attachment to straw men? Of course there is still labor and capital, work and rent. But do people seem to be organizing their political struggles around them in any concrete way? No. Not from either side. The right wing doesn’t care whether you’re a trust-fund heir or a capitalist entepreneur or a nativist factory worker, and the left wing doesn’t care whether you’re a prole or a poor person without a job or a song-writer.

Of course Marxism has time-honored answers to this — false consciousness and so on — which come down to unfalsifiability. You can no more prove that class struggle is not the hidden truth than you can prove the nonexistence of God. But as a predictive theory, intended to guide the struggles of the left, Marxism has failed.

106

Lex 09.12.08 at 3:07 pm

Just accepting for a split-second the validity of abb1’s view from eternity, even if it became fashionable again, for who knows what reason, to revive class struggle as an interpretation of reality, the last thing anyone would want to do would be to call it ‘Marxism’. In 40 years’ time the only thing anyone without a PhD in history will know about Marxism is that it helped Putin start World War V….

107

abb1 09.12.08 at 3:14 pm

If the conflict does exist, it doesn’t matter whether people organize or how they organize. Struggle is just a manifestation of the conflict. Where conflict exists struggle follows.

108

Rich Puchalsky 09.12.08 at 3:20 pm

abb1, what you’ve written is an exact expression of religious faith. If the conflict exists, then it doesn’t matter how people organize — that’s an exact cognate to if God exists, then it doesn’t matter whether we ever can perceive Him or not.

And no, I for one don’t want to wait 40 or 50 years and then check again. In 40 or 50 years I will be dead. The people who want to sit and wait for the class struggle can join those waiting for the Second Coming.

109

abb1 09.12.08 at 3:37 pm

I’m not looking for or waiting for any easily identifiable class struggle. I’m not trying to change anything; I am an introvert, and a bit of a fatalist (quite a bit). My only aspiration is to read a newspaper and get a clear logical understanding of what’s going on in the world. For my own personal pleasure.

For this purpose Marxism has been satisfactory so far. I suppose God would work too, but I am not religious.

If you’re (it sounds like) an activist, you’re certainly right that you can expect making a bigger impact by joining more popular rather than less popular movement. Good luck to you. Seriously.

110

engels 09.13.08 at 1:13 pm

. But do people seem to be organizing their political struggles around them [classes] in any concrete way? No. Not from either side. The right wing doesn’t care whether you’re a trust-fund heir or a capitalist entepreneur or a nativist factory worker, and the left wing doesn’t care whether you’re a prole or a poor person without a job or a song-writer. (Rich Puchalsky)

The End of Class Politics? Class Voting in Comparative Context, Geoffrey Evans (Editor), Faculty Fellow, Nuffield College, Oxford

Abstract: […] This book presents a state-of-the-art analysis of the changing nature of class voting and the salience of class politics in advanced industrial societies. It combines broad ranging cross-national comparison with detailed country studies and empirical tests of key theoretical and methodological explanations of changing levels of class voting. The final section includes commentaries from distinguished scholars from the fields of social stratification, political science, and political sociology, followed by a general discussion.The strengths of the book are the following: (1)a combination of breadth and depth, which uses both comparative analysis of up to 16 countries and detailed analyses of several of the more critical cases; (2) methodological sophistication: a particularly high quality is attained in the measurement of class and voting, and in the statistical analysis of their relations through time; (3) an interchange of skills and knowledge from political science, social stratification research, and the sociology of politics; and (4) an international collection of established and in some cases extremely eminent contributors.On the basis of the evidence presented, it is argued that in many cases class divisions in voting have not declined.

Social Class and Voting: A Multi-Level Analysis of Individual and Constituency Differences, Robert Andersen and Anthony Heath, Centre for Research into Election and Social Trends, Oxford

ABSTRACT This paper extends previous work on the changing importance of individual and contextual social class in Britain. We adopt a multilevel framework for analysis, linking surveys from the 1964-97 British Election Studies with Census data on the social class composition of constituencies. The goal of the paper is to test whether, net of individual social class effects, the social class composition of the constituency in which the voter lives has declined in importance over time. We found that contextual class effects were consistently significant and fairly constant throughout the period under study.

Class Voting in Capitalist Democracies Since World War II: Dealignment, Realignment, or Trendless Fluctuation? Jeff Manza, Michael Hout and Clem Brooks Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 21, (1995)

We conclude that despite the absence of a clear consensus in the field, theories asserting a universal process of class dealignment are not supported.

111

engels 09.13.08 at 1:40 pm

Walt: perhaps I didn’t phrase that very well. My point was that there is fault line among twentieth century Marxist between those, like Lukács, who emphasise the Hegelian aspects of Marx’s thought–including the kind of objective teleology that Ben associates with all Marxists–and those, like Althusser and perhaps the majority since, who strongly reject them. And this is largely reflected in a disagreement about Marx’s views: for Althusserians such Hegelian ideas are youthful, pre-scientific indulgences of the ‘early Marx’ which play no rôle in Marx’s mature thought.

112

engels 09.13.08 at 2:10 pm

Lex, I think that “what good did A ever do for me?” is definitely an interesting standard of evaluation for a major philosopher, if perhaps not quite as good as “if he’s so smart, why ain’t he rich?”…

113

Rich Puchalsky 09.13.08 at 2:34 pm

engels, in return I’ll have to expand on my “Voting Labor?” jibe. Is it really your contention that the Marxist class struggle comes down to voting for a center-left party? Workers arise, you have nothing to lose but an hour or so in the voting booth, then sit down again?

If so, then I suggest that Marxism is irrelevant. Center-left parties talk about “class” all the time; even in the U.S. Democratic pols will go on about the middle class, and many people will vote Democratic because they think they are better for the working class, or the middle class. But these aren’t really Marxist classes, based on one’s relationship to production. (For that matter, I’m not really sure, without reading the sources you cited, what kind of classes they’re referring to either.)

And I have my doubts about the situation in Britain, specifically. The class struggle is the British equivalent of religion in the U.S. Sure, people go to the voting booth, vote, and then tell pollsters that the class struggle is alive and well and that they are participating in it. Is that what Marxism means these days? A sort of MTV Rock The Vote special?

114

christian h. 09.13.08 at 3:17 pm

I’m sorry, was I shouting? My apologies. I thought I was just repeating a word used by the International War Crimes Tribunal, imperialist stooges though they be.

Yes, the ICTY. Who I never called “imperialist stooges” anymore than you called the US Air Force “paragons of virtue”. I guess when you make stuff up about people’s positions, it’s clever irony.

Anyway, as for the shouting: “genocide”, as defined in international human rights law (ie, in such a way it can apply for example, to a massacre of 8000 people in Srebrenica) is not what most people think of when hearing the word (the holocaust, the genocide in Ruanda, etc.). I therefore believe that in this context, employing the term amounts to shouting.

This is even more so, since there will not be any tribunal ever judging the (far larger) crimes committed by the US and allies in Iraq, thereby allowing you to say “a pox on both their houses” in that case. Let me ask you: if, by some miracle, a tribunal did come into existence and declare, say, the destruction of Falludjah “genocide”, would you then retroactively demand support for the resistance? After all, you claim one can’t stay neutral in the face of “genocide”.

Comments on this entry are closed.