Jonah Goldberg’s new book isn’t out until tomorrow, so

by John Holbo on April 30, 2012

… I guess we might as well discuss this Zizek thingy.

However, even if Lacan’s inversion [If there is no God, then all is forbidden] appears to be an empty paradox, a quick look at our moral landscape confirms that it is a much more appropriate description of the atheist liberal/hedonist behaviour: they dedicate their life to the pursuit of pleasures, but since there is no external authority which would guarantee them personal space for this pursuit, they get entangled in a thick network of self-imposed “Politically Correct” regulations, as if they are answerable to a superego far more severe than that of the traditional morality. They thus become obsessed with the concern that, in pursuing their pleasures, they may violate the space of others, and so regulate their behaviour by adopting detailed prescriptions about how to avoid “harassing” others, along with the no less complex regime of the care-of-the-self (physical fitness, health food, spiritual relaxation, and so on).

Today, nothing is more oppressive and regulated than being a simple hedonist.

This is, I take it, Goldberg’s thesis, minus the Lacan – we’ll see! Namely, the godlessness of liberalism produces an idiot tick-tock between authoritarianism and relativism. The proof: liberal bumper-stickers/slogans oscillate between fatuously broad gestures of total freedom and orthodoxy sniffery re: racism and sexism and a few other things. QED.

I predict it will be at stage two that we discern daylight between the Goldbergian and Zizekian positions:

But there is a second observation, strictly correlative to the first, here to be made: it is for those who refer to “god” in a brutally direct way, perceiving themselves as instruments of his will, that everything is permitted. These are, of course, the so-called fundamentalists who practice a perverted version of what Kierkegaard called the religious suspension of the ethical.

So why are we witnessing the rise of religiously (or ethnically) justified violence today? Precisely because we live in an era which perceives itself as post-ideological. Since great public causes can no longer be mobilized as the basis of mass violence – in other words, since the hegemonic ideology enjoins us to enjoy life and to realize our truest selves – it is almost impossible for the majority of people to overcome their revulsion at the prospect of killing another human being.

Goldberg and Zizek agree that there is a problem with liberal delusions of post-ideologism. See above: the master-argument from ‘liberal slogans are not so smart’, as we might call it. But I fear that, past this point, they will no longer see eye to eye. Let’s call the master-argument, in the mouth of a conservative, ‘the goose’ and the self-same argument, in the mouth of a left-of-liberalism critic of liberalism ‘the gander’.

I predict that Goldberg will maintain that what’s good for the goose isn’t good for the gander – because that’s just cliched thinking! Like “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter!” Zizek will argue, to the contrary, that Lacan and Hegel showed that the thing that conservatives think is good for the goose is actually not good for the goose. (Only a perversion of Kierkegaard could make it seem otherwise., See also, this parable, perhaps.) But it would be good for the gander. Alas, there are none. Damned liberals!

But I could be wrong. Possibly I underestimate one or the other or both authors. But this much is for sure: they both have new books coming out tomorrow. Neither of which I have read, nor shall I, in all likelihood. (I’ve read a lot of Zizek, but Less Than Nothing is more than a 1000 pages. I’m off the bus.) [whoops! looks like I was wrong about Zizek’s book. Saw a ‘May’ release somewhere and assumed May Day, which seemed Zizekian. Not actually available until mid-month. Apologize for inconvenience.]

Happy May Day!

{ 149 comments }

1

geo 04.30.12 at 5:19 am

Possibly I underestimate one or the other

Is it really possible to underestimate either?

NB – Let it be noted that tomorrow is also the publication date of a New York Review Classics reissue of one of the century’s great autobiographies: Victor Serge’s Memoirs of a Revolutionary. IMHO, any two pages of Serge are worth any amount of Zizek on any dimension: literary, philosophical, or other.

2

Scott Martens 04.30.12 at 6:36 am

Is that what Goldberg in on about? I doubt he can make it work, but someone better could. A C. S. Lewis perhaps, someone willing to not just say smart-sounding but very nonsensical things but actually believe them.

Consider, when you believe in a God that provides detailed prescriptions of what is forbidden, anything not on the list must, therefore, be okay to do without any guilt at all. Fatty foods? Not forbidden anywhere in the Bible! Snarf that cheeseburger without any guilt at all! Drink too much? Not forbidden anywhere in the Bible! (Okay, it is forbidden in the Bible, but not in any part I have to pay attention too, at least not in too clear a language.) Not wanting brown people in your neighborhood? Bible doesn’t say anything about that.

And for Muslims, there’s even a verse in the Quran (66:1) berating them for not enjoying all the stuff that isn’t forbidden!

3

Jim Harrison 04.30.12 at 6:54 am

I think Zizek’s take on the situation is wrong: logically, the slogan should be “God is dead. Nothing is permitted” and not “God is dead. Everything is forbidden.” Without supernatural sanction, there really isn’t anybody to do any forbidding. What both Zizek and right wingers fear is Nietzsche’s terminally passive Last Man. Conservatives don’t seriously worry that the absence of god will lead to Loeb and Leopold-style murderous acts—you don’t need God to justify ordinary prudence or mutual respect—but precisely the reverse. In the absence of somebody or something functionally equivalent to the mysterium tremendum, what will remain to sponsor the political criminality so beloved of reactionaries and not a few radicals?

Meanwhile, I have some doubts about the literal accuracy of Zizek’s bit about liberals “answerable to a superego far more severe than that of the traditional morality.” It’s not just that this sentiment could be endorsed without irony by any number of writers in the National Review. It seems to me that there are plenty of folks who have learned how to be hedonistic without getting neurotic about it. To the extent that liberal guilt occurs is it really some sort of inescapable mind trap or merely residual karma?

4

ponce 04.30.12 at 7:53 am

I prefer not to believe in Jonah Goldberg.

I figure he’s got to be a liberal creation anyways.

5

William Timberman 04.30.12 at 7:58 am

Zizek is rarely as funny as he sets out to be, or as serious as we take ourselves to be when reading him and shaking our heads, but come on, guys…. Compared to the Economist, he’s as much fun as a barrel of monkeys.

6

bad Jim 04.30.12 at 8:14 am

Liberals can’t enjoy themselves because they have to share? Nonsense! Liberals demand sharing.

It may be true that conservatives can’t enjoy themselves when they have to share; I couldn’t say.

7

Data Tutashkhia 04.30.12 at 8:16 am

I think Zizek’s take on the situation is wrong: logically, the slogan should be “God is dead. Nothing is permitted” and not “God is dead. Everything is forbidden.”

But that’s not his take, it’s Lacan’s; Zizek calls it “an empty paradox”. I’d say that if there is no God, then, most likely, there is no free will either, and therefore ‘permitted’ and ‘forbidden’ have no meaning.

8

Alex 04.30.12 at 9:18 am

As far as I understand Zizek at all, his shtick seems to be “let’s take a bunch of rightwing strawmen* at face value”, which is OK for a snarky blog post but hardly the stuff of Great Thoughts. The strawman-philosophy in the quote seems to me to be just the notion of an other-regarding action over again, that liberty is bounded by the obligation not to infringe the liberties of others, and that’s just reheated Mill (and indeed reheated social contract generally).

*Political Correctness. Really.

9

Alex 04.30.12 at 9:19 am

How much fun is a barrel of monkeys, anyway? I suspect putting monkeys in a barrel is probably cruelty to animals. tut tut.

10

SusanC 04.30.12 at 10:02 am

You often see communities defining themselves by what they are not (the Other). Members of the community reassure each other that they are, indeed, members in good standing by ritually denoucing the other.

For the Open Source community, the Other might be Microsoft, SCO etc.

For this community, the Other appears to be Lacan-influenced postmodernism in general, and Zizek in particular. There’s possibly something a little ironic in this, in that (e.g.) Microsoft is primarily trying to make money, and only accidently becomes an Other for the Open Source community, while Lacan takes the Other as an object of enquiry, and so is (presumably) doing it deliberately. In another context, someone who does it deliberately might be called a troll.

[Pedantic sidenote: Although the “Other” is a Lacanian term, here I’m possibly not using it in quite the same way that Lacan does. ]

=========

I think there are some interesting things in the Zizek piece.

I think if it was me, I’d have pushed the psychoanalytic angle a little futher.

Marxism as apocalyptic religion? Sure, that idea’s old hat.

Most people want to be good? Well, sort of, it seems. Although there are a significant number of psychopaths, of course. And, among non-psychopaths, is it really a desire to be good or to believe in yourself as good (possible in spite of the evidence), and have others believe in your goodness? Something between reputation managment and Festinger’s cognitive dissonance. If you really wanted to provoke, you could position religion as a psychotic belief that allows you to maintain the belief in your own goodness while doing the things you wanted to do anyway. And, in case the athesists start to agree with you (and you wouldn’t want people agreeing with you…) point out that revolutionary Marxism was kind of the same thing. It wasn’t the God in Christianity that made it “religion”, it was the psychotic belief—and an alternative psychosis would be just as effective.

11

John Quiggin 04.30.12 at 10:31 am

@Susan For this community, the Other is surely The Wanker of the Decade, whose name I will not even type. Zizek is an also-ran, used mainly as an excuse for some CTers to indulge the odd belief that Jonah Goldberg’s nonsense is worth discussing.

12

Katherine 04.30.12 at 10:51 am

I’m a particular fan of “harassing” in scare-quotes. News Flash – Harassment A Made Up Thing!

13

Adam Kotsko 04.30.12 at 11:40 am

It reaches a point where this old routine is just sad.

14

John Holbo 04.30.12 at 11:55 am

Adam! (it just wouldn’t be the same without you, man.)

15

JP Stormcrow 04.30.12 at 11:57 am

As sad as a monkey in a barrel.

16

bob mcmanus 04.30.12 at 11:57 am

11,12: From a beginner and amateur, I think Lacanian practice would be “other” with a small “O”. “autre”/”Autre”. Goldberg and Zizek are “others”

Wikipedia

Form “Other” Wiki

The French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan and the Lithuanian-French philosopher Emmanuel Lévinas were instrumental in coining contemporary usage of “the Other,” as radically other. Lacan articulated the Other with the symbolic order and language. Levinas connected it with the scriptural and traditional God, in The Infinite Other.

13: Very sad.

US Intellect History has a post about liberalism, post-liberalism with a link to a piece by Bill McClay and Chris Shannon

17

bob mcmanus 04.30.12 at 12:03 pm

11:Zizek is an also-ran, used mainly as an excuse for some CTers to indulge the odd belief that Jonah Goldberg’s nonsense is worth discussing.

Very good. I liked this.

I spent a little time thinking this weekend about who is dismissed as “stupid, incoherent, can’t be bothered” and who is refuted in great detail with a careful attention to arguments and evidence, using Krugman as a guide.

And what it means is that liberals suck up to their right from a submissive and supplicatory position.

18

Data Tutashkhia 04.30.12 at 12:16 pm

But this much is for sure: they both have new books coming out tomorrow.

As Special Agent Dale Cooper said: Gentlemen, when two separate events occur simultaneously pertaining to the same object of inquiry, we must always pay strict attention.

19

J. Otto Pohl 04.30.12 at 12:24 pm

I heard Julian Assange recently moderated a ‘debate’ between Zizek and David Horowitz. Maybe he can host one with Goldberg next. It is like the pencil necked geek version of professional wrestling. Frankly, I think most professional wrestlers are a lot smarter than these guys.

20

ajay 04.30.12 at 12:28 pm

I heard Julian Assange recently moderated a ‘debate’ between Zizek and David Horowitz.

Which brings to mind Disraeli’s crack about how a benign Providence had ensured that Gladstone married Mrs Gladstone, thus causing only two unhappy people in the world rather than four.

21

Barry 04.30.12 at 12:44 pm

So this Zizek is real? I had heard the term and some stuff, and always figured that he was some internet commenter.

Turns out that he’s like a random internet commenter, but without the brains.

22

politicalfootball 04.30.12 at 1:10 pm

And what it means is that liberals suck up to their right from a submissive and supplicatory position.

Prof. Quiggin would like to live in a world where ideas are valued for their relevance, insight and explanatory power. In the actual world, Goldberg-type ideas are influential. How ought one respond to this fact?

23

mattski 04.30.12 at 1:11 pm

From the looks of it Zizek fairly demonstrates that excessive thought is a perilous disease.

24

Bloix 04.30.12 at 1:44 pm

#7- “I’d say that if there is no God, then, most likely, there is no free will either, and therefore ‘permitted’ and ‘forbidden’ have no meaning.”

Exodus 7:
1And the Lord said to Moses …
3And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt. 4But Pharaoh shall not hearken unto you, that I may lay my hand upon Egypt, and bring forth mine armies, and my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great judgments.

25

William Timberman 04.30.12 at 1:51 pm

Oh, dear. The term barrel, as used in barrel of monkeys, is a unit of measurement, not a monkey confinement device. I suppose I could have said

Compared to the Economist, he’s a barrel of laughs.

and thus avoided the charge of virtual cruelty to animals. We who comment on CT posts must either learn to police ourselves, or reconcile ourselves to being policed. This is a Good Thing, I think, in that it encourages us to remain modest, and to stick to the business at hand.

Thank, you Alex and JP, for focusing on the monkey-torture, and remaining silent on the horrible grammar. I figure I got off easy this time.

26

nick s 04.30.12 at 2:37 pm

Which brings to mind Disraeli’s crack

It was Samuel Butler (the Victorian one) on Mr and Mrs Carlyle, but is not that kind of pedantry the kind of pedantry one identifies with liberals?

27

straightwood 04.30.12 at 3:02 pm

Extended discussion of absurdly vague classes of individuals, such as “liberals” or “hedonists,” is nonsense.

28

nvalvo 04.30.12 at 3:07 pm

Zizek does a thing, in my view, where he runs too quickly through “pleasure” in Lacan, blending together a few senses of the word that would be better held distinct. So I want to take a few minutes to parse out the consequences of this elision. While I’m mindful that defenses of this sort of thing are liable to fall on deaf ears (Barry @21 are the particular pair of deaf ears I’m imagining) in this venue, I actually and genuinely believe that there is something in this line of inquiry that could be extremely productive for a lot of the kinds of folks who hang around here.

“Pleasure” and “enjoyment” are terms of art in Lacanian psychoanalysis. As always in psychoanalysis, these have an interesting and complicated relationship to economic utility — e.g., Freud says in “Beyond the Pleasure Principle” that the subject in the thrall of the pleasure principle is akin to the rational, calculating homo economicus, in that he’s willing to put off enjoyment for greater returns. But Lacan’s twist is in consideration of pleasure as a kind of Hegelian tendency that generates its own resistance — indeed generates subjectivity as this resistance. Illustratively, ‘jouissance’ first appears in the Lacanian corpus in the mid-50s in a discussion of the master-slave dialectic. The point, in that discussion, is that pleasure — which is to say, achieved pleasure, utility — is experienced as a kind of loss of subjective reality, akin to what happens to the master half-way through the master-slave dialectic. Pleasure is evanescent, like a subatomic particle produced in an accelerator. The productive position is that of the slave, for whom ‘jouissance’ is the famous self-impeding enjoyment that approaches but never really quite reaches pleasure, and in which the subject recognizes itself. This is Lacan’s take on the world of dissatisfaction and unhappiness in which we all actually live.

Now, by the seventies, there is a new formulation, “surplus enjoyment,” and opinions differ about how this should be understood. Does the new formulation register a new wrinkle in Lacan’s thought on the relationship of pleasure to utility, or is it just a clarification of the old jouissance, which already meets utility obliquely? It seems to me that jouissance is to be understood as enjoyment that misses pleasure, as it were, by perpetually falling short; while surplus enjoyment is “useless” pleasure, which misses satisfaction by simply being irrelevant to need. Cigarettes are jouissance: the smoker *needs* them, and yet the satisfaction that each smoke offers is fleeting — indeed, by indulging the addiction, it engenders the (artificial) need for the next. And indeed, we smoke (well, I don’t), at great cost to ourselves, in order to have small, frequent needs that we can actually mostly meet. In contrast, the paradigmatic example of surplus enjoyment is Coca-Cola — a wholly vacuous pleasure, which in the satisfaction of which, we recognize something in alterity that we desire. In a word, consumerism. You do something, and then you realize that you wanted it.

(I should clarify: we’re talking about subjective attitudes, not the commodities themselves. The point isn’t what smoking or Coca-Cola are *really* like; the point is that both are easier than solving any of our actual problems.)

Of course, Zizek knows all this — hell, I learned much of what I know of this stuff from his _Sublime Object of Ideology_. But sometimes, as in the linked piece on hedonism, I find he tries to have it both ways: to insist on the complexity of the psychoanalytic concept of enjoyment when it suits him, and fall back on a naïve utilitarian concept when it doesn’t. This isn’t the first time I’ve noticed him do this, usually in popular pieces where he is staying away from jargon. So, when we read that hedonists “dedicate their lives to the pursuit of pleasures…”, we need to ask Zizek to slow down and explain exactly what he means (which he likely does in the book) because on that question hinges the issue of the relationship of pleasure to super-ego, and super-ego to ethics.

I think this confusion is a product of the constraints imposed on Zizek by Lacan. At the end of the day, he wants to make an argument that squares with Lacan’s take on the ethical, but that’s a tricky thing to pull off. Getting off the wheel, going “beyond the pleasure principle,” for Lacan, does two things: it corresponds to a different sort of ego loss (as the subject moves from the world of desires to the world of the drives), and it is also the transcendental ground for the ethical act. Those keeping score at home will thus note that Lacanian ethics has nothing to do with super-ego or calculation. Rather — and here I’m speaking in Alain Badiou’s language — the ethical act, like a revolutionary act, cannot be fully comprehended within the preexisting situation. It’s always tinged with the irrational. What this highlights is how *dangerous* ethics is. It’s not for nothing that Lacan’s ethics is a reading of Antigone. Indeed, Kierkegaard’s “religious suspension of the ethical” is roughly congruent to Lacan’s “ethics.”

In this light, let’s take a look at another passage from the article.

Religious ideologists usually claim that, true or not, religion makes some otherwise bad people to do some good things. From today’s experience, however, one should rather stick to Steven Weinberg’s claim: while, without religion, good people would have been doing good things and bad people bad things, only religion can make good people do bad things.

I think there’s a Lacanian argument to be made there, but I’m not at all sure that it is the one Zizek is making, at least in the short form.
The argument I would make instead is that just when it looks to us like we’re assuming control over our own ethical choices, just when we’ve killed God or whatever, we are blind to the way we’ve simply substituted poorly-examined conventional wisdom, institutional and individual self-interest and precritical morality for true ethical action.*  True ethical action is, after all, terror: too unstable to really hang around.

*I think that’s what Zizek is doing with his reference to political correctness, but I’m straining the bounds of a charitable reading here.

29

Bruce Baugh 04.30.12 at 3:18 pm

Years ago I identified the principle that anyone attacking “political correctness” as a real thing that threatens society/civilization/our chance at the Singularity before Morgan Webb joins Adam Sessler in leaving G4 can be dismissed without further worry. Zizek has not compelled me to feel otherwise.

30

ajay 04.30.12 at 3:19 pm

26: indeed, this is central to my point.

31

Bruce Baugh 04.30.12 at 3:28 pm

Nvalvo, I do very appreciate the Lacanian context, my previous notwithstanding. Thank you!

32

LFC 04.30.12 at 3:38 pm

Zizek:
“So why are we witnessing the rise of religiously (or ethnically) justified violence today?” (emphasis added)

Would Zizek ever bestir himself to investigate whether there is, in fact, more or less “religiously (or ethnically) justified violence” in the world now than there was, say, 15 or 20 or 60 years ago? The notion that there is more ethnically or religiously justified violence in the so-called “post-ideological” age may not bear much scrutiny, esp. if one considers the “post-ideological age” to have begun around 1989-1991. To take just one example, there was a fair amount of Hindu-Muslim conflict/violence in the Indian subcontinent before the “post-ideological” age began. And it may be worth recalling that al-Qaeda’s founding date is 1988 (iirc), before the “post-ideological” age began. (Accepting for the sake of argument the idea of a “post-ideological” age, which is itself debatable.)

33

hilzoy 04.30.12 at 3:47 pm

“since there is no external authority which would guarantee them personal space for this pursuit”

Someone needs to read the Euthyphro.

Also, too (to a commenter upstream): naturalism does not mean that there is no free will.

34

Greg 04.30.12 at 3:49 pm

OK, OK, I get it, Zizek is a charlatan who reduces us all with his insensible witterings designed to con the dim of intellect. Certainly the kind of guy to lump in with Goldberg.

If the whole point of this discussion is that liberalism wants to go on the rampage in defence of its honour (i.e. get condescending and a bit snitty), hasn’t John Gray written anything recently? Or is he too difficult to dismiss because he’s a bit too Anglo and doesn’t like jokes?

Speaking of which, the last thing many of us want brought to mind is Disraeli’s crack, and that probably also goes for Mrs Disraeli. You’re welcome.

35

Antoine 04.30.12 at 3:53 pm

If you stand in the anglo-american world but keep an ear even loosely attuned to the patter drifting in from the french intellectual scene you soon come to realize that Zizek basically functions as a pump , ingurgitating whole fragments of conversations from the french scene and regurgitating them as recomposed, consolidated waste for consumption as mass market intellectual products in the U.S. He is himself a triumph of globalization and capitalism

Zizek treads plainly in “la pensée anti-68″ , the delayed description of Mai 68 leftism as a dehumanizing dead end and the triumph, paradoxically -as another of its ruses- of capitalism and consumerism . A tired theme of French political thought these days , on both the marxist left and the reactionary right . In fact there is hardly any current of thought in France today that is not anti-liberal and that does not equate liberalism (as in capitalism) with hedonism and servitude etc etc . Interestingly , Christopher Lasch has become a fetish author in that milieu (Badiou, Michea on the left , Alain de Benoist , Finkielkraut on the right) .

Where Goldberg fits in , I’m not sure . He has less talent . He’s a hack, that’ s a given . He ‘s clearly anti-68 but as a defender of American capitalism he finds no obvious home in the continental map

36

Data Tutashkhia 04.30.12 at 3:53 pm

Also, too (to a commenter upstream): naturalism does not mean that there is no free will.

Rrrright. I knew someone would have to say that.

37

bianca steele 04.30.12 at 3:58 pm

Someone needs to read the Euthyphro.

On the Internet I always half-expect someone to say the point of the Euthyphro is to teach liberals not to sue their fathers.

38

Freddie 04.30.12 at 4:24 pm

As far as I understand Zizek at all, his shtick seems to be “let’s take a bunch of rightwing strawmen* at face value”

Perhaps it’s best, then, to not weigh in until you understand him more.

39

Josh G. 04.30.12 at 4:34 pm

Can someone explain to me why we take Zizek, Lacan, or for that matter Hegel seriously? Because they were European and use(d) a lot of big words? At what point do we just say that the emperor has no clothes?

40

J. Otto Pohl 04.30.12 at 4:47 pm

Josh G. at 39

Who is this “we” obruni?

41

SusanC 04.30.12 at 5:02 pm

I do have at least one objection to the Zizek piece:

In most political groups I’m some familiar with, there are some members who appear to be moderately psychopathic, and others who seem quite severely schizophrenic. The whole political discourse often has a slightly psychotic edge to it (See Richard Hofstadter’s The Paranoid Style in American Politics, for example), but some people you think: this guy is really crazy.

If political activists were just a random sample from the whole population, you’ld still see this of course. But possibly there is also some selection bias going on.

In any case, the ones who actually go and do something violent are not necessarily typical, but the ones who are on the far edge of the distribution of the psychopathic personality type. Most people are reluctant to kill, sure: but possibly not these guys, the minority who are “doing stuff”: it’s possible that they are remarkably disinhibited.

Meanwhile, most of the rest haven’t killed anyone, and most likely aren’t going to either: but they’re still taking part in the “kill the bankers” (or whoever it is this time) discourse. So whatever function this discourse serves for them, it is not getting themselves ready to kill.

42

JP Stormcrow 04.30.12 at 5:23 pm

If ajay misattributed a quote, it would be a misfortune. But if someone corrected him, that would be a calamity pedantry of liberalism.

43

bianca steele 04.30.12 at 5:42 pm

Susan C’s comments are helpful in understanding the theory, I think, but the “pedantic” thing seems to point at another of those “divided by a common language” issues. “Pedantic” is a pretty English word, in my experience, and for that matter when I spent some time in England the person most likely to act pedantic was also the person most likely to act American (competitive etc.).

The fact is that I do largely know where Goldberg is coming from. I don’t have similar knowledge w/r/t Zizek.

44

JW Mason 04.30.12 at 5:44 pm

Zizek is an also-ran, used mainly as an excuse for some CTers to indulge the odd belief that Jonah Goldberg’s nonsense is worth discussing.

+1

But on the other hand, sometimes the worst posts give rise to the best comments threads. Nvalvo @28, for example, is probably the clearest explanation of what Lacan was on about I’ve seen.

45

JW Mason 04.30.12 at 5:46 pm

… so I guess everyone should just keep on doing what they’re doing, which is fine, since we are all going to regardless.

46

SN 04.30.12 at 5:47 pm

Shorter Zizek seems to be: There are no externally imposed rules so people turn to GASP! socially enforced moral norms of various constraining types.

STOP THE PRESSES.

47

Data Tutashkhia 04.30.12 at 5:50 pm

But on the other hand, sometimes the worst posts give rise to the best comments threads.

As Special Agent Dale Cooper said: Nothing beats the taste sensation when maple syrup collides with ham.

48

Substance McGravitas 04.30.12 at 6:09 pm

the odd belief that Jonah Goldberg’s nonsense is worth discussing.

SOMEONE’s gotta shoot the zombies.

49

Leo Casey 04.30.12 at 7:11 pm

Zizek and Goldberg: an intellectual marriage made in heaven. I love it.

50

John Quiggin 04.30.12 at 7:48 pm

It’s a real curse being in the wrong timezone sometimes. I had just read the Butler quote on Carlyle, so I was all set to correct ajay when I read #26, but of course it was 1am here and lots of people beat me to it. Sad as a barrel of monkeys being a pedant, sad as a barrel of orangutans being a provincial pedant.

51

mds 04.30.12 at 7:53 pm

the odd belief that Jonah Goldberg’s nonsense is worth discussing.

As long as a major metropolitan daily newspaper and a major publishing company share the odd belief that Jonah Goldberg’s nonsense is worth printing, there will be those who feel compelled to discuss it, even if entirely via ridicule. It’s not like the Eschaton is actually going unimmanentized due to all the time spent mocking fatuous right-wingers.

52

js. 04.30.12 at 9:00 pm

Right, so I’ll dissent from (what seems to be) the general consensus here. Yes, Zizek’s style can be tiresome, he can say ridiculous things, he’s not a very original thinker, etc. But it seems crazy to me to put him in the same category as Jonah fucking Goldberg!.

Here, (almost) at random, a recent article of Zizek’s from the LRB. Again, I don’t with very much in it, least of all the (implicit) Leninism at the end. But the mirror-image of Liberal Fascism? Seriously?

53

Watson Ladd 04.30.12 at 10:30 pm

straightwood, being a liberal means believing certain things. So one can talk about liberals, or a liberal tradition, etc, pretty clearly. Political theory might have troublesome concepts, but it’s not impossible to see them work.
navlo, good comment. But I think it’s worth noting that both Zizek and Badiou abandon a sort of Enlightenment ideal of progress through reason, and they do so ultimately because of a disenchantment with politics. They insist on being politically viewed.

54

Colin Danby 04.30.12 at 10:43 pm

We had exactly the same discussion in the last Zizek thread, js. Talk about yer eternal return.

Thanks nvalvo for adding value! Do you have a reference for the Freud bit? I see a few mentions of “the economic point of view” in _Pleasure Principle_ e.g.

“These theories endeavour to conjecture the motives of children’s play, though without placing any special stress on the ‘economic’ point of view, i. e. consideration of the attainment of pleasure.”

(Useful e-text at http://www.bartleby.com/276/)

I wonder whether part of the problem is uncritically absorbing the idea that there is a single, essential “utility” or satisfaction that *explains* all consumer demand (something econ really doesn’t argue). Psychological elaboration then gets piled atop this one alleged fundamental kind of satisfaction.

I agree that Zizek is pretty good in his theoretical writings in maintaining analytic distinctions. One place they break down is his discussions of consumption, which seem to me to lapse into pretty standard pop-psych, however entertaining.

55

chris 05.01.12 at 12:02 am

Jonah Goldberg’s new book isn’t out until tomorrow

Does anyone know how it came to be delayed by precisely a month?

Accepting for the sake of argument the idea of a “post-ideological” age, which is itself debatable.

I wonder how “ideological” is being defined here? It would be pretty easy to accidentally make this statement itself an ideological claim, which would then be self-refuting.

56

bianca steele 05.01.12 at 12:15 am

I think “post-ideological” just means simply “after Communism ceased being a live option,” and that seems pretty clear.

57

Andrew F. 05.01.12 at 12:35 am

Is Zizek (I’ve never read him) proposing a psychological thesis about atheists/hedonists, or a philosophical thesis about the logical implications of atheism/hedonism when combined with other beliefs/values commonly held, or perhaps (perhaps unavoidably) some mixture of both?

58

JP Stormcrow 05.01.12 at 12:38 am

So it’s don’t get caught with a live Keynesian or a dead Communist now?

59

John Holbo 05.01.12 at 1:43 am

“But it seems crazy to me to put him in the same category as Jonah fucking Goldberg!”

Well, obviously there are a lot of differences. The core similarity is as follows: the need for a very particular sort of straw man liberalism. Both Zizek and Goldberg are concerned not so much to object as to anathematize. At the same time, both are sympathetic with certain core liberal values, so there has to be some rebranding and claiming-as-one’s-own as one goes. The operation won’t go smoothly unless liberalism is violently caricatured, rather than plausibly presented, so that’s what we get.

60

John Holbo 05.01.12 at 2:02 am

To supplement that a bit: both have a love of arguing that the worst case for liberalism is secretly the best case, by liberalism’s own lights. Some unintended thing (actual or merely potential) is the only thing that is truly intended. This isn’t plausible, but it’s superficially paradoxical and so may seem clever.

61

Watson Ladd 05.01.12 at 2:25 am

JH: But Zizek doesn’t seem to be saying anything that radical: that one might make cultural norms into universal laws rooted in reason, once you abandon “God”, that is a religious tradition, seems to be a fairly common thought among liberals who seek a reason to sell out rights abroad. It’s not a caricature: Kant absolutely would be a thinker whose replacement of God with universal reason leads to a much harsher set of moral judgements, and an uncertainty about what the rules are does lead to a shading away from the boundaries. His rhetoric is overblown, and parts are wrong, but there is a recoverable argument here.

62

LFC 05.01.12 at 2:52 am

Watson @61

I’ve tried to write a coherent reply to your comment, but I’ve decided it’s hard to write a coherent reply to gibberish, which is what your first sentence, at least, seems to be.

63

John Holbo 05.01.12 at 4:10 am

Watson, I agree with LFC, your first sentence is unclear. Also, re the ‘it’s not a caricature’ part, I’m not really sure what you are saying but it seems to be along these lines: ‘it’s not a caricature to suggest that liberalism is essentially a sort of harsh, idiot authoritarianism because Kant can be read as a thinker whose devotion to freedom turned him into an intellectually incoherent, rather harsh, moral authoritarian. And Kant was sort of a liberal.’ Is that it?

64

Lee A. Arnold 05.01.12 at 4:17 am

Kant replaced God with universal reason?

65

John Quiggin 05.01.12 at 4:17 am

@48, Yes, we each have to face our own zombies

66

js. 05.01.12 at 4:46 am

both have a love of arguing that the worst case for liberalism is secretly the best case, by liberalism’s own lights. Some unintended thing (actual or merely potential) is the only thing that is truly intended.

I’m not sure I get this. Is the point something like this: for JG, liberalism “truly intends” fascism; for Zizek, liberalism truly intends, umm, I guess I don’t know, but some kind of authoritarianism? I don’t think that’s that obvious about Zizek, but whatever.

Really, part of my problem here is that I’m probably less on board with American liberalism than several others here. Not that I don’t like its policy proposals. Great policy proposals—when they’re, you know, actually liberal (by which I mean, broadly social-democratic). But then, lots of utilitarians have had great policy proposals, Mill not least among them. Though that never made utilitarianism a coherent doctrine.

67

John Holbo 05.01.12 at 6:19 am

“I’m not sure I get this. Is the point something like this: for JG, liberalism “truly intends” fascism; for Zizek, liberalism truly intends …”

I probably shouldn’t have said ‘truly intends’. JG probably think that liberalism has a sinister core, but Zizek has more of a … telos view. Construe that in Hegelian terms or Lacanian terms, or both, as you like. Liberalism has an inherent tendency to turn bad in a characteristic way. Probably best not to describe that as an ‘intention’. I don’t think there is anything wrong with arguments of this broad form. Political philosophies have to be graded on their ‘tendencies’ as well as in terms of more sharply logical or conceptual properties. That’s only natural. But Zizek’s arguments of this form all strike me as exceptionally weak. They shuttle, in the grand Hegelian style, from the abstract Kantian heights (for example) to the level of practical politics in ways that seem tendentious and clueless on several fronts at once. ‘The worst sort of Kantianism would be x, therefore the typical sort of liberalism must be x.’

68

William Timberman 05.01.12 at 6:32 am

After 1945, American liberalism had to contend with the aftermath of the Second World War. Good intentions aside, the temptation to turn the Arsenal of Democracy into the world’s de facto police force was probably inevitable, and by the mid-Sixties it had, in fact, become irresistible. Liberals weren’t entirely to blame for this, but neither did they offer it much in the way of serious resistance.

When I look at the history of those twenty years, I’m reminded of those funeral baked meats that coldly furnished forth the marriage table. The bureaucratic infrastructure of the New Deal was adapted to the service of empire so swiftly, and so smoothly, that scarcely anyone seemed to notice, except perhaps President Eisenhower.

This led to an ungodly confusion in every American’s thinking, and turned most of us into its victims one way or another. President Johnson was perhaps the most tragic of these victims among the famously liberal, but he wasn’t by any means the only one. Sadly, we’re still as confused as we were in 1968. Conservatives hate the nanny state, leftists hate the imperial state, and neither seems to realize that they’re the same thing — an unholy amalgam of two incompatible, if largely honest American impulses turned to spectacular evil.

We can’t separate them if we don’t acknowledge how they came to be fused together in the first place. If we do, we might yet be able to find a beneficial use for all the infernal machinery we’ve inherited. If we don’t, we might well spend the next generation cursing each other in the dark while the gods decide whether it’ll be bang or whimper, fire or ice that’s next up on the agenda.

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Data Tutashkhia 05.01.12 at 10:43 am

@67, but the piece you linked is not a good example of his critique of liberalism, it’s about something else. Would you care to analyze this one: http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2011/11/22/3373316.htm

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Dave 05.01.12 at 10:51 am

Well, Zizek, I guess he’s getting old/writing too much in public, because you can just see him just running out of shtick.

71

John Holbo 05.01.12 at 11:06 am

Data, I think the piece I linked is a pretty good example of what I’m talking about. Not the Kant stuff, per se (someone else started talking about Kant and I just followed suit, obligingly. Zizek is interested in Kant, after all). What fits with what I just said is Zizek’s general schtick is the idea that “they [liberals] dedicate their life to the pursuit of pleasures, but since there is no external authority which would guarantee them personal space for this pursuit, they get entangled in a thick network of self-imposed “Politically Correct” regulations, as if they are answerable to a superego far more severe than that of the traditional morality.” This amounts to saying that the secret heart/telos/tendency of liberalism is, in effect, a sort of authoritarianism. I don’t think Zizek has evidence for that conclusion, nothwithstanding the inevitable cases in which someone has ill-advisedly set him or herself to be cherry-picked by Jonah Goldberg as a PC lackwit.

The piece you linked actually seems a clearer case of what I am talking about. More Kant, for one thing. “One should follow Kant’s line of thought to its conclusion: a fully self-conscious liberal should intentionally limit his altruistic readiness to sacrifice his own good for the good of others, aware that the most efficient way to act for the common good is to follow his private egotism. Here we have the logical obverse of the motto “private vices, public benefits” – namely, “private goodness, public disaster.”

That is, the secret heart of liberalism is that one ought to be a devil (as opposed to the original Kantian idea that you should design your politics so that even if people are devils – which you hope they won’t – it won’t go too badly.) I am sympathetic to the idea that, by aiming at the second-best, you tend to forget to aim at the first-best. But it doesn’t seem to me that Kant, in particular, is guilty in this regard. And Zizek’s very strong way of putting it – i.e. by aiming at the second-best we advocate the worst-best – seems to me totally unwarranted.

72

mattski 05.01.12 at 11:35 am

True ethical action is, after all, terror: too unstable to really hang around.

I do not understand this at all. What are you saying?

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chris 05.01.12 at 12:15 pm

Liberalism has an inherent tendency to turn bad in a characteristic way.

As a critique, this seems rather weak. Don’t all political programs have such tendencies, with the possible exception of the ones that start out bad? People being unable to enjoy a nice steak for fear of hurting a cow’s feelings, even if it became society-wide rather than restricted to a fringe, still seems like a veritable utopia compared to how communism turned out in several countries. Let alone something like fascism or apartheid.

I dunno, maybe Zizek intends to say (or imply) that liberalism is the worst system except for all the others, but it kinda looks like he’s just refusing to consider the alternatives at all and condemning liberalism’s (perceived) flaws in a vacuum. It’s hard for me to take that seriously. All governmental systems may be flawed, but you can’t not have one, even if you tried.

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subdoxastic 05.01.12 at 1:44 pm

@ Chris 73

Yes, silly non-meat eaters! But at least their not communists.

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Watson Ladd 05.01.12 at 3:56 pm

LFC, JH: Sorry for the unclarity of my first sentence. Core to liberalism, is that man and his reason, not God, determine morality. (Regardless of what metaethics you subscribe to, it is hard to argue for the possibility of a society with a plurality of actual ethical judgements) Now, some (self-described)liberals would argue that this simply doesn’t happen: you just replace God with cultural judgements that assume the weight of universal moral law, because there actually isn’t a universal moral law.

But there is something that eliminating God from morality does do, and that is make forgiveness a very difficult concept. Who can forgive a transgression, when the rule being transgressed doesn’t come from anywhere but is a moral necessity? So the claim of authoritarianism is that arbitrary judgement, far from being expelled by liberalism, is actually deeply ingrained in the form of a moral law that is really just culture, without any awareness of same.

I think that Zizek is wrong, but he’s not crazy: this is a fairly traditional rejoinder to Kant.

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bianca steele 05.01.12 at 4:28 pm

both have a love of arguing that the worst case for liberalism is secretly the best case, by liberalism’s own lights.

Which is admittedly a problem with “post-ideological”: post-ideological anti-liberals think (probably sincerely) that the worst case for liberalism is the best, truest case, and also think (probably sincerely) that it isn’t possible to object to a best, truest case–at least without being ideological.

Now, if Jonah Goldberg would just accept that he’s a “neoliberal” everything would be easier.

I haven’t read the more recent comments so maybe someone else has mentioned this.

77

Keith Edwards 05.01.12 at 4:37 pm

I suspect putting monkeys in a barrel is probably cruelty to animals. tut tut.

But letting them out is the Lord’s Work.

78

Substance McGravitas 05.01.12 at 5:03 pm

Here’s what Jonah says he is saying for now:

My only real regret is not pointing out to Piers Morgan that he proved the point I made at the outset of the interview when I explained what my book is about: Liberals lie to themselves and the world when they claim they’re not ideological.

He links to video of himself arguing with Morgan.

79

Barry 05.01.12 at 5:40 pm

Watson Ladd: “But there is something that eliminating God from morality does do, and that is make forgiveness a very difficult concept. “

If this is the best that you have, we might as well proclaim the Universal Triumph of Liberalism right now.

80

Cranky Observer 05.01.12 at 6:03 pm

“it is hard to argue for the possibility of a society with a plurality of actual ethical judgements”

Are you actually arguing that New York City does not exist? I hope we all agree on the ethics of not murdering along with similar extreme situations, but when it comes to everyday interactions I think a few hours in a NYC family court would reveal dozens of different ethical systems living side-by-side. Mostly harmoniously.

Cranky

81

Norwegian Guy 05.01.12 at 6:29 pm

“liberalism is, in effect, a sort of authoritarianism”

What is liberalism? If it’s some kind of political movement that, among others, Barack Obama, Anders Fogh Rasmussen and Roberto Micheletti belong to, then I’m not sure if this statement is completely wrong. If you look at how liberal governments treats civil liberties, they are often not that much less authoritarian than conservative or social democratic ones.

82

Data Tutashkhia 05.01.12 at 6:43 pm

The dichotomy here is not ‘God or liberalism’. This is his standard theme: better to be passionate about something, pursue some grand political end (even if unattainable, a “lost cause”), than dedicating your life to the virtue of not offending anybody (or recycling, or something). Not nearly grand enough, pathetic. This is just one angle of that mantra: where there is no real passion, you’ll get caught in the net of a million of arbitrary and meaningless little taboos.

83

bianca steele 05.01.12 at 6:50 pm

Look at a story like David Foster Wallace’s “Suicide as a Kind of Present,” and he is not saying that the twentieth-century liberal society is authoritarian and repressive. He is saying that the t-c l s is excessively free. He says that the pressure literally comes from the individual because the t-c l s makes no demands on him whatsoever. Thus, there is a neurosis (or psychosis or whatever) in believing in those internally-generated demands–supposedly this didn’t happen in the past, but it does now because liberalism supposedly demolished all traditional ways of life singlehandedly.

I can’t help thinking that what Watson Ladd and Slavoj Zizek and others say, about liberalism being authoritarian, comes from an abstract back-application of Foucault and that lot. If there is a real source for it, I don’t know where it is.

84

js. 05.01.12 at 7:18 pm

JH @67:

Thanks. Understand now, and pretty much agree. (I continue to be unsure about “liberalism”, but that’s best left for another thread….)

85

Herschel 05.01.12 at 7:29 pm

Shouldn’t someone have referred to Jonah Goldberg as the Doughy Pantload by now?

86

Watson Ladd 05.01.12 at 10:31 pm

bianca: I don’t agree with Zizek. Liberalism is an incomplete project, not some conspiracy by a new elite to enslave all of us. There is a grand project of becoming a free individual, which Zizek doesn’t see for some reason.

Cranky Observer: There is a distinction I should make between having different individual lives in one framework, and having multiple frameworks for how to live. Precapitalism we lived in the second kind of world: Jews live this way, Arabs this way, Christians this way, each New Guinean tribe in its own way. With capitalism all of that is subsumed by a single framework of exchange for goods and services. Capitalism and liberalism permit individual differences, but these differences pale in comparison to the similarities: all have rights, all exercise them.

87

mattski 05.01.12 at 11:15 pm

But there is something that eliminating God from morality does do, and that is make forgiveness a very difficult concept. Who can forgive a transgression, when the rule being transgressed doesn’t come from anywhere but is a moral necessity?

This doesn’t make any sense to me. It sounds like you are saying that a culturally determined norm is more absolute, more non-negotiable than the commands of the Deity! “Well, crossing God– that’s forgivable, but crossing a consensus, now that’s a bridge too far!”

Nevermind that religious folk don’t agree on what the Deity requires.

Watson, have you heard people describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious”? It’s quite common nowadays. Forgiveness is a spiritual act, it’s requires–often–a struggle in oneself to let go of a grievance, to fess up to oneself that we often want to hold others to higher standards of conduct than we hold ourselves. Forgiveness, in my view, has nothing at all to do with “God” and everything to do with our inner life. Forgiveness benefits everyone, and though it is often difficult to achieve, everyone is capable of it.

88

Data Tutashkhia 05.01.12 at 11:22 pm

Please, Watson. A “grand project of becoming a free individual” would require creating some sort of de Saint-Exupery’s world, where everybody lives on their own little planet. As long as there is another person nearby, you are unfree, and it’s just a matter of how your unfreedom is structured, and to what end. So, Zizek (and, for that matter, most of the unenlightened masses) dislike some basic aspects of the liberal way: technocratic management, destruction of social context, seemingly arbitrary legalism, that sort of thing. And who can blame them.

89

mattski 05.01.12 at 11:27 pm

*Additional thought: All this critiquing of “liberalism” has the whiff, for me, of the classic preachers complaint about Darwin’s theory. As if pointing to the weakest aspects of Evolution was in any way making a case for the Bible! Anyone can make any half-assed and conveniently vague criticism of some liberal straw man. But what are you offering as an better alternative? (And is it plausible that the alternative is less authoritarian than the alleged straw man?)

[tags fixed]

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mattski 05.01.12 at 11:29 pm

tags….

91

AcademicLurker 05.01.12 at 11:47 pm

Anyone can make any half-assed and conveniently vague criticism of some liberal straw man. But what are you offering as an better alternative? (And is it plausible that the alternative is less authoritarian than the alleged straw man?)

In Zizek’s case, he typically starts gushing about Stalinism and gulags and making Terror the order of the day & etc.

And you’re left thinking “Gosh, that sounds better than bland milquetoast liberalism any day!”

What’s sad and frustrating is that, looking at the current state of the “west” – the out of control surveillance/security state, the openly admitted practice of torture, massive inequality, the apparent impossibility of holding anyone above a certain tax bracket accountable for anything & etc. – it’s clear that liberalism has failed in a very real way, and we need some genuinely new way of thinking about things and moving forward. Unfortunately the non-liberal left has generally proven to be totally freaking useless, unless indulging in pathetic bloodthirsty fantasies is your idea of a genuine alternative.

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AcademicLurker 05.01.12 at 11:47 pm

Italics fail.

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Barry 05.02.12 at 3:07 am

Bianca @83: “I can’t help thinking that what Watson Ladd and Slavoj Zizek and others say, about liberalism being authoritarian, comes from an abstract back-application of Foucault and that lot. If there is a real source for it, I don’t know where it is.”

It’s standard right-wing Rovian lies – accuse others of what they themselves are doing/plan to do. It’s the cry of somebody claiming to be oppressed because they aren’t allowed to oppress other.

Nothing more.

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Frank in midtown 05.02.12 at 4:15 am

A.L. I don’t think Liberalism has failed, but it got sucked into the cold war’s “existential” battle against communism without understanding the cost of success. The successes born of the merger between liberalism and capitalism has allowed Freedom to defeat Fairness and left our marketplace of ideas without a meaningful competitor to unfettered capitalism. With the commie’s out of the way the capitalists don’t need liberal window dressing and want anything liberal to be seen as both anti-Freedom and unfair (taxes are theft anyone?) Thus “the godlessness of liberalism produces an idiot tick-tock between authoritarianism and relativism.”

95

js. 05.02.12 at 5:20 am

I don’t think Liberalism has failed, but it got sucked into the cold war’s “existential” battle against communism without understanding the cost of success.

Going somewhat off-topic here, but this is exactly the sort of thing I’m curious about. If we’re talking about American liberalism here, what is it exactly before or independently of the cold war and it’s (i.e. liberalism’s) reflexive rejection of anything left of itself as “fellow travelers” or “fellow travelers of the fellow travelers”, etc.? (Cf., e.g., Schlesinger’s characterization/dismissal of The Nation, just off the top of my head.) Not that there weren’t all sorts of left and left-ish movements in the US before this, but if we’re talking about liberalism in particular, and in the American context, I just don’t get how to distinguish it from the peculiarities of the consensus view.

(And I think the hang-over of the consensus view still very much lingers, though this is somewhat hard to defend. Symptomatically, it can be seen in liberalism’s continued knee-jerk dismissal of anything left of itself.)

96

LFC 05.02.12 at 4:57 pm

what is it exactly before or independently of the cold war

this, maybe? (haven’t read it, just remembered the title)

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bianca steele 05.02.12 at 5:08 pm

http://www.npr.org/2012/05/02/151711939/do-liberals-live-under-a-tyranny-of-cliches: Why does Goldberg care that liberals claim ideology is bad but that liberals are really ideological? Not because of Habermas or whoever. Because his teachers in high school (which was liberal) and in college (which was leftish), and the (lefty) kids he’s argued with since then, were always accusing him of being ideological. Not in so many words, but to judge from that link it was apparently a kind of obsession of theirs, to point out that what he was saying seemed ideological, and he was supposed to know already (as he did) that being ideological was bad. What he has in common with Zizek seems to be an obsession with not agreeing with the mainstream, and maybe also an agreement that the mainstream should be called “liberal.”

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nvalvo 05.02.12 at 6:22 pm

Colin Danby @54:

Sorry, I must have missed this when I read through before. The Freud citation is indeed _Beyond the Pleasure Principle_, basically in its entirety, as you’d inferred. This may be one of those traditions that has a larger footprint in the secondary literature than in the original; and it should be noted that what Freud refers to as ‘economics’ may be something closer to what we would call utilitarian philosophy. On that score, probably an important additional reference for this literature would be George Bataille’s _The Accursed Share_.

Your point, though, is an intriguing and worthwhile one: the flattening out of utility into a sort of unitary quantity is an interesting problem, although it’s hard to see what the theoretical angle would be, outside of aesthetics. The Lacanian approach — that distinctions are to be made at the level of attitude — might not be the best answer always and everywhere.

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Colin Danby 05.02.12 at 10:06 pm

Thanks – Bataille is in the reading pile. Several angles, I think, but a bit afield from this thread. Feel free to email me (I’m easily findable at U Washington).

100

John Quiggin 05.02.12 at 10:58 pm

@AcademicLurker There seems to have been a particularly dramatic shift in the US, I assume as a consequence of 9/11 in the sense of a determination of the Executive to exercise the powers of a police state and the willingness of the public, including self-described liberals, to accept that. There hasn’t been any comparable shift in Australia, for example, although the Bali attack was comparable in terms of loss of life, taking relative population sizes into account.

A lot of left critiques aren’t very useful in dealing with specific developments like this, since they take it for granted that the state is an instrument of oppression, so that the differences between the state of civil liberties in BushI-Clinton era and in the Bush2-Obama era are viewed as merely the removal of a mask.

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bob mcmanus 05.02.12 at 11:49 pm

100: I do try to keep Australia and Sweden in mind.

I don’t think Liberalism has failed, but it got sucked into the cold war’s “existential” battle against communism without understanding the cost of success.

But stuff likes this shocks me into silence, since I am currently reading about the late 19th century, when a half dozen of the most developed liberal nations decided to carve up the rest of the world. And it wasn’t as if brutal Victoria dragged the British into Africa and China.

Followed you know, by 1900-1950. Now maybe it is the case that we mere humans have simply repeatedly failed liberalism, just like we have yet to get that free market capitalism thing done right. But the “Another war? Another depression? O Holy Liberalism, we are so unworthy of you.” has just gotten tiresome.

To get serious, I don’t think there is a mask. My tentative thesis is that it is progressivism: growth, improvement, moral and other advancement as an attitude and ideology that is the original sin. And maybe we can have free nations without it*. But JS Mill thought the commitment to progress was at the absolute center of liberalism, in his time off from pushing paper for the East India Company.

*as an example, this would mean the end of slavery or the CRA or woman’s equality were aesthetic preferences rather than ethical accomplishments. It was British righteousness and French idealism that carved up the world.

102

bob mcmanus 05.02.12 at 11:54 pm

And of course, if y’all choose to say that the “white man’s burden” was bs, and it was really about greed and cruelty and racism, then you are the ones to say that Mill and Tocqueville were wearing the masks in their writings about liberalism.

103

js. 05.03.12 at 2:59 am

LFC @96:

Fair enough. I really should learn more about Dewey, esp. in this context. Though I somehow wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out to be sort of proto-consensus view, e.g. with a knee-jerk dismissal of anything left of itself, etc.

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mattski 05.03.12 at 3:05 pm

In Zizek’s case, he typically starts gushing about Stalinism and gulags and making Terror the order of the day & etc.

Precisely!

it’s clear that liberalism has failed in a very real way, and we need some genuinely new way of thinking about things and moving forward.

“Liberalism” is kind of a rorschach test isn’t it? To me it means more or less the development of democracy. I think the development of democracy should be viewed as a very long term project. I wouldn’t say that “liberalism has failed” but rather that there are going to be, for the foreseeable future, very powerful forces opposed to democracy. And, even democracy can be taken too far! There is a balance to be struck, and without the consent of the public it’ll never work too well.

Unfortunately the non-liberal left has generally proven to be totally freaking useless, unless indulging in pathetic bloodthirsty fantasies is your idea of a genuine alternative.

I am in 100% agreement. “Leftism” leads to fantasies of violence. It’s a waste of time.

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bob mcmanus 05.04.12 at 1:52 am

I am in 100% agreement. “Leftism” leads to fantasies of violence. It’s a waste of time.

Absolutely. Liberals on the other can get real and serious and go watch their cops as surrogates brutalize those contemptible OWS protesters. Much more fun.

Picked up Charles Maier, Among Empires

” Empire is a form of political organization in which
the social elements that rule in the dominant state—the “mother
country” or the “metropole”—create a network of allied elites in re-
gions abroad who accept subordination in international affairs in re-
turn for the security of their position in their own administrative unit
(the “colony” or, in spatial terms, the “periphery”)”

That’s useful.

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bob mcmanus 05.04.12 at 2:15 am

Here you mattski, why fantasize when David Graeber can provide you actual pictures?

Not your fault? That’s the great thing about liberalism, with shared power and rule-based bureaucracies, liberals can always blame some other guy for mistakes and abuses and enjoy watching the subaltern get stomped while still feeling self-righteous.

107

John Holbo 05.04.12 at 2:30 am

“‘Liberalism’ is kind of a rorschach test isn’t it?”

Speaking of which: Bob, what do you mean by ‘liberalism’? I mean: approximately. To you it means J.S. Mill “On Liberty” but also unmanned drone strikes in Pakistan (Obama is a ‘liberal’) and, I take it, any other water that might have passed under the bridge labeled ‘liberalism’ for the past 250 years or so. Is that right?

If not, then explain what more restrictive concept you are working with. If so, then I think 1) your usage is too broad and, as a result 2) you are guilty of a kind of lumping fallacy. Example: obviously we don’t want to make it be that every philosophy gets to keep its white gloves clean, utterly unresponsible for any bad things done in its name. But by the same token its silly to lay all the bad practical results at the feet of the philosophy. From the fact that Obama is responsible for the drone strikes, it doesn’t follow that J.S. Mill’s “On Liberty” advocates drone strikes. (I am sure you agree that reading that classic essay as an explicit call for drone strikes would be tendentious at best.) We need to distinguish the bad results that are the fault of the philosophy and the bad results that are the fault of people who have failed to live up to the philosophy. And we need to be a bit careful in those cases in which the philosophy has somewhat unrealistic expectations about people, so that things that are the people’s fault can also be the philosophy’s fault, for not predicting that the people would be at fault (if you see what I mean).

So: what do you mean by ‘liberalism’? Approximately.

108

bob mcmanus 05.04.12 at 4:01 am

107: Holbo, consider it to be my current project. That is exactly what I am trying to figure out, whether for instance wars and depressions are intrinsic to liberalism as practice theorized or not. Of course there are a lot of liberalisms and democracies:historical, contingent, theoretical.

Nor should we believe that there is simply a gap between liberal theory and
liberal practice, or that liberal practice, under political pressure, found
itself unable to live up to its theory.
…Jennifer Pitts

For the most part, I doubt my definitions would differ greatly than your own. Feel free. The difference would lie in whether the “failures” are systemic or externalities, exogenous or built-in, dialectical or an deterministic reverse-double-movement. It is all very complicated.

From the fact that Obama is responsible for the drone strikes, it doesn’t follow that J.S. Mill’s “On Liberty” advocates drone strikes. (I am sure you agree that reading that classic essay as an explicit call for drone strikes would be tendentious at best.)

Now that is tendentious, and probably an indication of someone arguing in bad faith. However Pitts does discuss how Mills’ belief in and commitment to universal moral and material improvement may have led him to advocate despotism in India, so that the Indians might be turned British-like and capable of self-rule. I suggest you read Obama’s latest speech about Afghanistan, 150 years later, and ponder progress.

But honestly, you have called me literally crazy and are an emigrant to freaking Singapore. We have been watching each other for a decade. You are just playing.

109

John Holbo 05.04.12 at 5:00 am

Bob, I don’t think I’ve called you crazy (if I did I wasn’t being quite serious about it). I’ve called you a troll, but I don’t think you would deny that you engage in that familiar form of behavior from time to time. As to playing. Pshaw, my good fellow. Should you ever cease playing yourself, I might consider stopping. Until that day, it would be unwise.

On a more serious note, it seems to me that the ‘it is all very complicated’ line, although manifestly sensible, is not clearly available to you, in light of your penchant for dismissing anything in the neighborhood of ‘but it’s complicated’ as transparently disingenuous lines of liberal defense.

Let’s consider this remark, for exmaple: “That’s the great thing about liberalism, with shared power and rule-based bureaucracies, liberals can always blame some other guy for mistakes and abuses and enjoy watching the subaltern get stomped while still feeling self-righteous.”

If you are right that liberalism is complicated, it seems unlikely that this is ‘the great thing about liberalism’, in any analytically helpful sense. Obviously you are being ironic, so we rewrite it as ‘the terrible thing about liberalism’ – fine fine. It isn’t clear to me that the essence or notable distinguishing characteristic of liberalism is affordance of the privilege of blaming others while watching the subaltern being stomped. You say that your sense of ‘liberalism’ is probably roughly co-extensive with mine. But my sense does not seem to me to support this and other sweeping claims you seem to want to make, so I toss the ball back to you. What is your sense of ‘liberalism’? Approximately?

110

John Holbo 05.04.12 at 5:04 am

For what it’s worth, I agree with the Jennifer Pitts bit you quote. To me it sounds like good sense.

111

John Holbo 05.04.12 at 5:15 am

Actually, let me soften that even more because, although I am obviously baiting Bob, I want to be clear that I am also posing what seems to me a completely legitimate question.

Your proposed project makes total sense, Bob. But I fail to see how you can build up from a foundation of ‘my sense of liberalism is probably about like yours’. I genuinely doubt that it is true that your sense of liberalism is like mine. I suspect they are significantly different, though not totally different. Anyway, it’s obvious that the project should probably consist of a lot of buildings on top of a lot of different liberalisms. If you just respond to ‘liberalism’ in the aggregate, then I fail to see how it is better than a rorschach test. You have a tangled knot of feelings and thoughts about liberalism. Your project will be to build a sounding board, echoing all that back to you without clarifying it. How not?

112

mattski 05.04.12 at 2:06 pm

bob mcmanus, to me you seem mostly concerned with outrage, and not so much with practical solutions to problems. Your broadsides against “liberalism” would be more coherent if directed against “civilization” or “human nature.” And what is the point of raging against human nature? Your failure to meet J Holbo’s request for an approximate definition is telling.

Couple of particulars for the sake of specificity: I don’t approve of police mistreating OWS participants. I don’t approve of police mistreating anyone. My sympathies are with OWS. How you can construe police misconduct as an indictment of “liberalism” is really beyond me.

As to drone strikes, again, how is this “liberalism’s” problem? Did “liberals” invent warfare? If a drone strike kills a combatant is that a transgression of the rules of war? (Not defending drone strikes per se, I don’t really know the answer.) History is replete with every horror show you can imagine. Is that the fault of “liberals”? **Take the Melian Dialogue, for example. Democratic Athens perpetrating a gut-wrenching slaughter of innocents. Does that event prove that democracy was a mistake, and we should have never wrested power from kings and aristocrats? That’s not the lesson I take from it.

One other point about liberalism roughly equaling democratic government. The other critical component of progress–in my view–is the free flow of information. Right now there are major propaganda organs like Fox News and right-wing radio which effectively ‘manufacture’ ignorance. That’s a problem and we need to find ways of countering it.

113

bob mcmanus 05.04.12 at 3:15 pm

112:Hell, go to Wiki. “Liberalism” = constitutional gov’t, respect for human rights, freedom of speech press etc, expansion of social sympathies blah blah. But this is like reading the Constitution and Jefferson and saying the early US was all about freedom and the Bill of Rights. What about slavery? Well, that didn’t fit, never fit, just kinda happened accidentally.

112.2: Here we go again. I knew you would say that. Yet, the OWS got stomped and I don’t see a lot of pushback. How does this happen? “Well, we have bad guys, the other guys, Bush’s War, Bush’s depression, Bush’s torture, we’re working on it.”

This still doesn’t answer the question:”How do these things happen?” They happen because liberals are all about self-imposed limits to action, and these self-imposed limits enable and empower the bad guys. Republican’s fault? Why can’t we just eliminate the assholes, prevent the inauguration of Romney, should he get elected? “No, can’t do that.” See: Carl Schmitt.

112:Melian. Try Thucydides again, especially the speech to the Spartans. Reread the Melian. “We’re big, you’re small, we rule” is not so far from majority rule in a democracy, and the Athenians knew it, said it, were proud of the objectivity and honesty and science that logically commanded empire.

I am not saying democracy or liberalism is a mistake. I like my free press too. But liberal values are tools, means not ends, servants not master. Can we have a little inflation for a while, until we get back to trend growth? Can we have a little illiberalism for a while, just until we tame the crazy party? History tells me that we can go back after the civil war. And our enemies and our fake allies are not so inhibited.

No, we can’t, you can’t accept a temporary suspension of the ethical (Zizek vs Holbo), a personal state of exception? Well, damn, isn’t that interesting? And no, I don’t blame you or think you are a bad guy. I think your suicidal restraint is built into your ideology, an identity as “citizen in civil society,” an denial of subjectivity, an objectification of self. See:Athens.

112.last: The other guys again. I am not interested in the other guys.

114

Norwegian Guy 05.04.12 at 5:47 pm

“what do you mean by ‘liberalism’?”

That would depend on whether you mean liberalism as a political philosophy, or as a political movement. But one definition could be the policies of the member parties of the Liberal International. Lots of centrist and centre-right politicians. At the moment they’re pushing austerity and neoliberalism from their positions in the British, German and Dutch governments. Even when liberal parties join left-of-centre governments, like the Social Liberals in Denmark, they are constantly using their clout to force the government to avoid anything that could resemble left-of-centre economic policies.

And while Thomas Friedman gets mocked a lot on Crooked Timber, in many ways he’s a fairly standard European centrist liberal. Add Michael Ignatieff, Alan Dershowitz and Marty Peretz, and North American liberalism doesn’t look so benign either.

115

John Holbo 05.05.12 at 2:25 am

OK Bob, I understand what you are saying a bit better now. Let me just point out a mild irony: I think the clearest antecedent of your proposal may be H.G. Wells’ original proposal for ‘liberal fascism’. (I teach this every year because I teach the film that came out of it: “Things To Come” (1936). I was teaching about the lead balloon that was and is liberal fascism before Goldberg’s book came out.) Essentially, he has a two-phase proposal. First, dictatorship of the competent (I guess you’d call it). Second, liberalism – hygiene, science, common sense, humanism. The second phase can only be healthy and stable if illiberalism has been effectively stamped out by illiberal means. Heads will roll.

It doesn’t follow that Goldberg has got your number, of course. He hasn’t got anybody’s number but he keeps dialing. That is his gift and genius, such as it may be.

So I’ll just rephrase my question: if you are in favor of liberalism in the vanilla wikipedia sense, then all you are adding is, in effect, Wellsian-Schmittian exceptionalism as to how we get there. (Obviously you aren’t a true Schmittian because he has no interest in establishing liberalism by exceptional means. And I’m not going to ask you to accept the label ‘fascist’. Wells was borrowing that for shallow, contrarian effect, much as the fascists themselves borrowed ‘socialist’ without being socialists.) You may say you are a socialist, not a liberal. But this is why I wanted you to tell me what ‘liberalism’ means to you. Do you want a temporary dictatorship of the competent, to be followed by a properly constituted liberalism? Or do you want something else? Or what?

What is it I am allegedly afraid to consider, in short?

My reason for not favoring liberal fascism (in a Wellsian sense – again, this really has nothing to do with anything Goldberg is talking about) is, as you might expect, a mixture of principle and prudence, with more weight on the latter. I don’t see any reason why dictatorship of the competent should reliably issue in anything but dictatorship of the incompetent. So to me ‘it’s impossible to see how liberalism will heal itself of all its terrible problems, so we ought to try this other thing that also seems impossible’ doesn’t make any prudential sense. As to the issue of principle: it matters a lot what we are aiming for. So again, I ask: what is the goal? Every liberal state had its founding moment which was, usually, sort of illiberal, since it didn’t arising by normal, electoral means, by definition. The American Revolution, anyone? This is a point that liberal theorists ought to be clearer about but it’s also sort of obvious. Once you’ve accepted that liberalism is normally born out of illiberalism, then there isn’t really such a strong principled objection to illiberal means to liberal ends. But that’s not to say that therefore any illiberal means is ethically ok, so long as the end is liberal. The reason that liberal theorists/philosophers aren’t very clear about this is not that they miss it, but that it’s hard to philosophize about, liberally. Which does say something.

116

Norwegian Guy 05.05.12 at 9:50 am

“if illiberalism has been effectively stamped out by illiberal means”

Banning burqas? And a many other proposals mostly targeting Muslim immigrants, some of them supported by a not insignificant number of liberals.

117

mattski 05.06.12 at 2:46 pm

Once you’ve accepted that liberalism is normally born out of illiberalism, then there isn’t really such a strong principled objection to illiberal means to liberal ends.

The paradox of progress is it involves change. Change is hard to talk about, and unpredictable!

bob mcmanus, I knew you would say that. Yet, the OWS got stomped and I don’t see a lot of pushback.

What would it take to appease you? You know, it would be nice if you would own some of the ridiculous falsehoods you fling around. Such as accusing people of “enjoying” the mistreatment of innocent people.

This still doesn’t answer the question:”How do these things happen?” They happen because liberals are all about self-imposed limits to action, and these self-imposed limits enable and empower the bad guys.

May I be permitted to disagree? You are arguing that the bad acts of unprincipled people are the fault of the principled people. That’s just not true. Principled people show restraint because a) it is often the best course b) it establishes a precedent that would otherwise not be established and it demonstrates that higher forms of human behavior are in fact possible, not just pie in the sky. Gandhi, non-violence. Good idea, MLK thought so too.

The lizard in us wants to kill the opponent. That is the way of lizards.

118

chris 05.06.12 at 3:01 pm

“if illiberalism has been effectively stamped out by illiberal means”

Banning burqas?

My first thought was the British ban on suttee. Clearly an arrogant act of imperialism, yet… does anyone really regret it? Should they?

The lizard in us wants to kill the opponent. That is the way of lizards.

And apparently also the way of Bob: “Republican’s fault? Why can’t we just eliminate the assholes, prevent the inauguration of Romney, should he get elected?” sure looks to me like a call to use violence if necessary to prevent the Other from taking power.

I disagree with Romney on a lot of things, hell, nearly everything. But I won’t murder him to keep him out of the Presidency if he wins the election.

119

JP Stormcrow 05.06.12 at 4:01 pm

But if he loses and stages a coup, fair game…

120

bob mcmanus 05.06.12 at 4:13 pm

128:No one calls out Brad DeLong when he calls for the destruction of the Republican Party. I said what I said, not what you fantasized. Your sick violent fantasies are your own, all liberals wallow in them, like cheap horror movies. “Oh noes, the civil disorders are coming to get us!”

Liberalism: respect for the rule of law. This is pretty important, philosophically.

So…

Quiet sit-down in the park against city regs and police command = illiberalism.

128.last: Then don’t complain when Romney policies kill thousands, or millions if we attach Iran. Seriously. This is what I mean by “liberals never have to say they’re sorry.” The system is set up precisely to create these periods of mass irresponsibility when Democrats can cluck their tongues and say “Not my fault. I followed the rules. Other guys’ bad.” Both sides get these self-righteous freebies.

121

bob mcmanus 05.06.12 at 4:27 pm

127.penultimate. Look at this, think about it.

Definitions of “liberalism” vary, but I do think, and have said, that it is not only that “end doesn’t justify the means” but that means are now self-justifying and have become disconnected to ends.

Non-violence used to be a tactic, and both Gandhi & MLK had more threatening, in the case of India, very violent allies. The point was good cop/bad cop.

Now non-violence has become the end itself. Liberalism, that used to be utilitarian or consequentialist, now has become deontological, a ressentiment religion of obedience and passivity for pathetic failures. I actually think it is worse.

No, with millions of young lives condemned to permanent marginalism because of 5-10 years unemployment as they are starting their careers, you just don’t get to say “I did my best within the rules, but the bad guys were in the way. Oh well, losers, I got mine.”

You do what it takes, and declare a state of exception.

122

bob mcmanus 05.06.12 at 4:43 pm

This is what has been going on: the oligarchs are writing laws and creating a social consensus (hegemony) in order to constrain what is socially or legally possible to do or think for any opposition to their rule. This is almost one basic definition of what politics is. “OWS in the park? We’ll write an ordinance, and chris and stormcrow and mattski will be on our side.” And you are.

(And no, you can bullshit yourselves, but you are not on the side of OWS. OWS is not about the “Buffett rule.” OWS doesn’t have a plan or a program, is not a pragmatism. OWS is about opposing the methods of hegemony. OWS is revolutionary.)

123

bob mcmanus 05.06.12 at 4:50 pm

And finally, because it is really boring to argue with religious fanatics

Once you say, “Bad law, I can break a bad law, or ignore a small law. As long as no one gets hurt, and the social disorder us minimized.” That bit about respect for law is important, it is a line, a barrier, an edge, a limit.

Once you say it, by rule of fairness and empathy, you willfully abandon control. You can’t have a tiny managed revolution. It is a leap of faith. Revolution is subjectivity.

What do I want, John? I want a counter-hegemony. I think I know what that means.

124

Data Tutashkhia 05.06.12 at 5:24 pm

I’m not sure why this would be a great revelation to anybody, but of course “the rule of law” is a mantra of those at the top of the pyramid.

Here, read some Ravachol: http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/ravachol/1892/forbidden-speech.htm

125

Bruce Wilder 05.06.12 at 5:53 pm

“. . . liberals are all about self-imposed limits to action, and these self-imposed limits enable and empower the bad guys . . . “

In historical perspective, liberalism is the ideology of the petite bourgeoisie, particularly the professional classes, and they typically make universalist arguments and idealistic arguments, which feature twin gambits. One gambit is in the direction of a bid for mass support from the poor and working classes, or oppressed, marginalized and excluded groups, and the other gambit is a disguised bid for the patronage of the bourgeoisie, an offer to be a useful tool, if included within the circle of power. They’re playing those below them in the social hierarchy off against those above them.

In the American Revolution, the local grandees, frustrated in their bids for inclusion in the aristocracy, which ruled the British Empire, made such appeals, and when the landed aristocracy back in Britain, snubbed them as provincials unworthy of appointments and titles, they chose power at the head of popular revolution, bought with the grand sentiments of the DoI and the Bill of Rights and all that.

In the Great Reform of 1832, there were similar appeals to universal ideals, but when the landed aristocrats in confrontation blinked, the liberals threw the working classes under the bus, so to speak, and took their winnings.

When liberals have played their parts well, the world has gotten progress: just enough change, coupled with the promise of more change to come, to preserve the stability of still oppressive regimes. When liberals have failed, as in the run-up to the First World War, the forces of conservative reaction have taken the world into spasms of destruction.

I think we are living in an era of liberal failure on a massive scale; deluge to follow. The promise of further progress to come, on which liberal compromise has typically rested is belied by plutocratic triumphalism.

I hadn’t realized that anyone thought liberalism equates somewise with pacifism, but Holbo seems to lean in that direction, and the reluctance of liberals to fight, even when their ideals are trampeled seems to characterize this era. Gay marriage is somehow to make up for aggressive, unprovoked war in the balance of sin, and Obama’s skin color makes up for . . . everything, apparently.

I am still liberal enough to imagine that rules are not the enemy and the right rules are still the only secular salvation, and, yet, I see that rules are the means of the neo-liberal sellout to the corporate plutocracy, as well as the excuse for ineffectualness after the (American) electoral results of 2006-8. I guess no one could anticipate that the filibuster might be a problem, or if they could foresee, they foresaw it as a means of marrying liberal support to policy proposals designed for the centrism of Joe Lieberman and Olympia Snowe.

And, now we head into an election, where the horror, which is Romney, is the reason we are not supposed to notice the fascism of Obama. We are not supposed to notice that the fix is in, for a post-election sell-out on taxes and everything else. And, we are certainly not supposed to consider that the time to fight is coming.

They stole an election, and liberals did not fight. They invaded and occupied a country without provocation in an aggressive war, and liberals did not fight. They tortured and eliminated habeas corpus, and liberals did not fight. They stole the economy, and liberals did not fight.

Liberals don’t fight. What are liberals?

I am as puzzled as Bob.

126

Merp 05.06.12 at 6:42 pm

If I were a satirist I would write a Heart of Darkness parody where some DLC staffer would be tasked with neutralizing some rogue think tank director who has been operating without any restraint or decency and while effective is giving the party at large a bad name. In the process of completing the mission the staffer begins to hate the stench of lies surrounding his enterprise, realizes that the dark, irrational and evil mindset which the director utilized to achieve his goals are a part of every member of the political system, and that the political system itself is the worst example of this mindset.

It would end with the director announcing the horror of what he’s done and the system in which they’re enmeshed to the think tank’s staff before retiring and begging the staffer to relate the truth of what he’s learned to an idealistic colleague, a state senator who was to be the intended political partner of the director and who harbors highly naive and romantic notions of the nature of what the director was doing. The staffer, of course, lies to the state senator and tells him that the director’s last act was to commend the state senator for the work he’d done as his partner.

127

John Holbo 05.07.12 at 1:14 am

“What do I want, John? I want a counter-hegemony. I think I know what that means.”

That’s great, so long as you are appointed counter-hegemon. But what if someone else gets the job or you fall in battle, Bob? How is your successor to conceive of his or her job? Counter-hegemon of the proletariat? Of the poor? Of the 99%? Of labor? And what does the counter-hegemon seek to achieve? Just liberalism (in a vanilla, Wikipedia sense?)

Also, I don’t like your equation of liberalism and legalism, in effect. “Quiet sit-down in the park against city regs and police command = illiberalism.”

Even John Rawls, who has been criticized for having an unduly narrow sense of acceptable civil disobedience, doesn’t say such a thing is illiberal. He says it’s liberal. (There isn’t some paradox: how can we admire the Civil Rights Movement, given that we are liberals?) It isn’t axiomatic, for liberals, that one should never start revolutions in illiberal societies, for example.

128

bob mcmanus 05.07.12 at 1:55 am

127:”Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat?”

I love liberals. “Respect for the law, sovereign, and the rights of others? This isn’t like a foundational principle or anything. I can pick and choose, go exactly as far as I want (no broken windows now) and remain a good citizen. Why not?” Cake, having, eating.

That’s great, so long as you are appointed counter-hegemon. But what if someone else gets the job or you fall in battle, Bob?

That is exactly the counter-hegemony, that I don’t get to be in charge after I sign on to revolution. Once the civil disobedience starts, I don’t get to decide which laws are broken and which are obeyed.

Desmoulins: “WTF? Bastille? Did I do that?”

129

Tom Bach 05.07.12 at 2:16 am

Maybe “liberalism” isn’t legalistic as much as it is procedural and a commitment to violence as the last resort. Take, as an example, the American Civil War. The “liberal” position was in favor of ending Slavery through an already existent set of political procedures while the “conservatives” were willing to engage in violence when the procedural process went against them. “Liberals” saw violence as a court of last resort when their (conservative?) opponents refused to abide by already agreed upon procedures. Obviously “radicals,” like Garrison, denounced the procedure as an illegitimate blood soaked. I think it was Sheridan who warned the South that Northern “liberals” would fight and win because they were not the wimpy girly men the Southerns thought them to be. And, perhaps, the problem is that the issue that presently confronts the US and elsewhere, by which I meant the overwhelming power of the plutocrats, isn’t one that that present day, or really any day, “liberals” are interested in contesting.

So, perhaps, the problem we presently confront isn’t one of a “liberal failure” but rather of a “liberal” blind spot, in the sense that the current set of “liberals” accept that market capitalism as currently practiced is more or less the best of all possible worlds and, as a result, the radical critique of “liberalism” is a counter hegemonic project, and therefore illegitimate in “liberal” eyes precisely because it asks that we ask and seek to answer a different set of questions, which are clustered around what was once called the “social question” — which insisted that economic efficiency wasn’t the proper starting point for the creation of a more perfect union.

130

Tom Bach 05.07.12 at 2:23 am

Sorry for the prolixity and typos but, to be yet more prolix, think about Germany in 1848. German Liberals refused to ally themselves with German Radicals and as a result they got 60 odd years of Conservative and Reactionary domination. Or consider Louis 16 had he actually acted as a constitutional monarch, as he agreed to do, instead of fleeing the Revolution might well have looked dramatically different.

Or in other words Holbo might be better off by taking McManus by the hand in the interest of forming a coalition dedicated to the creation a different system instead of insisting that Mcmanus is wrongly wrong.

131

John Holbo 05.07.12 at 3:15 am

“That is exactly the counter-hegemony, that I don’t get to be in charge after I sign on to revolution. Once the civil disobedience starts, I don’t get to decide which laws are broken and which are obeyed.”

Sorry, I did get that counter-hegemon wasn’t going to be a political post/military rank, with its corresponding Sgt. Pepper-style kooky captain’s cap. My point was this: if you don’t get to decide which laws are broken and which are obeyed – which you obviously won’t – then how is the fact that you “know what you mean”, i.e. know what you have in mind – help keep things headed in the right direction, rather than any number of wrong directions? How does your ‘subjectivity’ do the good work it has to do, if revolution is subjectivity, and you don’t get to wear the counter-hegemon cap, officially?

“the current set of “liberals” accept that market capitalism as currently practiced is more or less the best of all possible worlds”

This is in a sense too strong. It rules Krugman clean out as a liberal, because he proposes reforms to market capitalism ‘as currently practiced’. It rules almost all liberals out, taken literally. So: fine. Not to be taken quite literally. You are making the point that liberals are too pessimistic about the prospect for reform, too half-a-loaf (or even one lousy slice). They are too slow to see that certain radical procedural steps might yield better results. Fair enough.

My problem with this – if I can pick on Bob again – is not that the likes of Bob disagree with the statement that “market capitalism as currently practiced is more or less the best of all possible worlds” but that he agrees with it. He thinks we need to take a leap of faith to see anything beyond it (see comment 123). You don’t do that if you think there is some regular old possible world we could walk to – get there from here. I don’t like Kierkegaardian politics. I think it’s an idiom for expressing anger, while acting like you are analyzing something or proposing something. Expressing anger is fine, of course.

132

Tom Bach 05.07.12 at 10:55 am

Okay fine. Contemporary liberals have a critique of market capitalism but it amounts to a very tepid fretting about insufficient fiddling when the inevitable crises arises.

The leap of faith, it seems to me, is that the current system is pretty horrid for the 99%, what with drones, Foxcon and related etc, and what comes next, should the “liberals” and radicals work with as opposed to against one another, might be better. The actually existing alternative is that the current horrid system might be better should “liberals” continue to work with conservatives and reactionaries and, so far – in any event, that hasn’t worked so well.

133

mattski 05.07.12 at 4:21 pm

But if he loses and stages a coup, fair game…

If he loses and stages a coup we get our arses into the street.

They stole an election, and liberals did not fight. They invaded and occupied a country without provocation in an aggressive war, and liberals did not fight. They tortured and eliminated habeas corpus, and liberals did not fight. They stole the economy, and liberals did not fight.

I don’t think these are necessarily justified statements. The 2000 election, I think it was a usurpation of power–call it a coup–by the SCOTUS. OK, but it’s not cut & dried illegal. In fact, given who the bad actors were it seems BY DEFINITION to have been legal. That’s an excruciating paradox, but that’s what happened. (And why I expressed the opinion on another thread that Clarence Thomas’s appointment to the high court was a truly insidious event.)

As to “they stole the economy” and we didn’t fight, with apologies to bob mcmanus, OWS counts as liberal push back in my opinion.

In historical perspective, liberalism is the ideology of the petite bourgeoisie, particularly the professional classes…

My personal opinion, “leftism” taken too far results in the empowerment of petty jealousy, which is not a decent way to run human affairs. A middle path, a sensible path between the poles of left & right allows that people come in all shapes and sizes. Some people are more brilliant than others. Some people are harder workers than others. Some people are downright lazy. There are natural hierarchies which do not violate our common sense of decency. There isn’t anything wrong with some disparities of wealth. What we want to avoid is extreme disparities in wealth. Deciding what is acceptable and what is extreme is always going to be subject to debate, subject to an ever-changing consensus. But it should–in my opinion–be decided by consensus. The real trick is to cultivate an informed consensus. That’s tough when major media are for-profit entities. I’m a big supporter of increased public media, that’s a pressure-point where I see a lot of potential leverage.

134

mattski 05.07.12 at 4:32 pm

Or in other words Holbo might be better off by taking McManus by the hand in the interest of forming a coalition dedicated to the creation a different system instead of insisting that Mcmanus is wrongly wrong.

No, I disagree. Moderate lefties should be taking extreme lefties to task. Moderate righties should take extreme righties to task. Taking any moral position to an extreme results in monstrosities and history bears that out in spades.

What we want to do is GROW moderates of the left and the right. That is a path to a more decent society.

135

bianca steele 05.07.12 at 5:35 pm

@128
I googled A Place of Greater Safety for “WTF” and it isn’t there. I don’t know if the novel is relevant, but it’s good and it’s in print in the US again, and I never heard of Camille Desmoulins until I read it.

136

Salient 05.07.12 at 6:15 pm

What we want to do is GROW moderates of the left and the right. That is a path to a more decent society.

Nowadays “moderate” is basically synonymous with “won’t attempt to disrupt wealth extraction and consolidation, but will enact mass public-sector layoffs and entitlement cuts in the name of austerity” in domestic policy and “won’t attempt to meaningfully scale back war, mass surveillance, or assassination campaigns, regardless of the strength of rationale” in foreign policy.

You’ll have to forgive us extremists for finding that unpalatable and exasperating, and if you want us (or our kids) to grow toward you, you might put some work into defending “That is a path to a more decent society” instead of letting it stand as self-evident. Drone raid attacks and mass surveillance, which really are now the two hallmarks of moderate foreign affairs, are a path to a more decent society how? Selling off public sector property and agency to private companies and transferring funds from entitlement spending to defecit reduction, the two hallmarks of moderate domestic affairs, are a path to a more decent society how?

Moderates have held control of the IMF and the Federal Reserve. Moderates have presided over the now-standard 8% annual funding cut to state university budgets. Moderates have repeatedly attempted to wholesale censor user-submitted content on the Internet, in the name of defending copyright holders from theoretical losses in revenue.

Maybe you could stop worrying about bashing our heads in to buy you a little more growing room (on the May Day thread no less), and start making your case for these moderate policies a little more clearly?

137

Salient 05.07.12 at 6:19 pm

(And no, you do not get to appropriate OWS and expect to have that stand unchallenged. OWS was, and is, pretty explicitly anti-moderate.)

138

Data Tutashkhia 05.07.12 at 6:46 pm

Yeah, the wheels of concentration of power grind slowly, but exceedingly fine. And the reversal – by leaps and bounds. It easy to take one dollar from each of a million people, but try to take a million from one.

139

bob mcmanus 05.07.12 at 7:45 pm

He thinks we need to take a leap of faith to see anything beyond it (see comment 123). You don’t do that if you think there is some regular old possible world we could walk to – get there from here. I don’t like Kierkegaardian politics.

137:

Holbo doesn’t like K-politics and Bertram (?) is offended by the methodological obscurantism of the dialectic. I am not the guy to convert them, and think material conditions will be vastly more important anyway.

Better than me:Violence and Phenomenology, James Dodd, Routledge, 2009, on Arendt “On Violence” Power, authority, violence

Power springs up whenever people get together and act in concert, but it derives its legitimacy from the initial getting together rather than from any action that then may follow.

“Violence [ . . . ] is distinguished by its instrumental character,”

There is a lot to unpack there, it is the absolute purposelessness of OWS that gives it power.

This could mean that all instrumentalism deriving its efficacy under an authority of a state and legal process…is violence. That means all moderate reformers. I always wonder about the guys with the nukes and surveillance state and police power at their backs claiming to have the moral authority of non-violence.

140

Merp 05.07.12 at 9:07 pm

Kinda surprised no-one’s brought up Benjamin and divine violence yet. That would also bring things full circle, since Zizek’s views on violence engage a lot with Benjamin’s ideas.

141

mattski 05.08.12 at 1:21 am

Nowadays “moderate” is basically synonymous with …

Salient, you don’t get to tell me what I mean by moderate. Let’s start there. Do you consider Krugman moderate? I do. He isn’t polite, but he understands and appreciates the value of market economics. He frequently criticizes excesses of the Left. His program is basically higher taxes on the wealthy, better regulation of financial markets. That’s what I’m on about.

Did you see the OWS sign, “Krugman’s Army”?

142

mattski 05.08.12 at 1:32 am

Drone raid attacks and mass surveillance, which really are now the two hallmarks of moderate foreign affairs, are a path to a more decent society how?

Except that I didn’t say or imply that. Please, slow down. Would you be appeased if I said that I’ve frequently been utterly exasperated by Obama? To quote my best mentor, Krugman, “President Pushover.”

Bush did a whole lot of damage. Obama didn’t march in and undo all that damage. Or possibly, even a little. What that has to do with my arguments above I’m not sure.

143

John Holbo 05.08.12 at 5:13 am

““Violence [ . . . ] is distinguished by its instrumental character,””

So pointless violence (in the ordinary sense) is not violence. And non-violence that has a point (in the ordinary sense) is violence? I would say this does needless violence to our ordinary notions, but since I don’t see the instrumental point of talking this way, it may be that you will want to insist it is, perforce, non-violent. Please advise.

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Data Tutashkhia 05.08.12 at 6:16 am

Good thread. What bothers me about Zizek’s ‘liberalism is authoritarian’ bit is that while he, of course, is trying to insult liberalism, in his own universe it’s not really an insult, because nothing is wrong with authoritarianism. Meta-paradox, yea!

But here, with things like ‘consensus is the king’ and ‘means are the ends’, that amount to ‘no real purpose’, a better insult comes to mind: what liberalism really is, is a sneaky form of nihilism.

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mattski 05.08.12 at 3:21 pm

If I could add some remarks. By “moderate” I am not talking about policy as much as attitude. I’m stressing the importance of not getting too attached to one’s notions of what is right. It’s better to learn to listen to people you disagree with. It’s productive to look for the kernels of legitimacy in conservative thought. It is positively liberating to come to a place of, “I have some good ideas, and so does Joe Conservative here.”

What I like about Krugman, he puts his foot down at the point where conservative behavior goes off the deep end. Crazy is crazy and there’s no two ways about it.

It is also liberating to feel–rightly or wrongly–that the policies you support are so undeniably just that you will win any fair debate. Then you can focus on trying to secure that fair debate. That’s where I put my hopes. We, the lefty-sorts, are going to win most of the crucial policy debates because our ideas are more appealing, they’re more fair, etc. So lets focus on trying to cultivate transparency in general, and fairness in our public debate.

146

mattski 05.08.12 at 3:25 pm

Meta-paradox, yea!

Some people, for reasons unknown, devote themselves to creating labyrinths of abstract thought that go nowhere/to some pet prejudice, take your pick.

147

Data Tutashkhia 05.08.12 at 3:37 pm

Some people sound smug and patronizing.

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mattski 05.09.12 at 2:55 pm

Yak. Data, I wasn’t taking a crack at you! But rather Zizek and folks who write stuff like this,

“Now non-violence has become the end itself. Liberalism, that used to be utilitarian or consequentialist, now has become deontological, a ressentiment religion of obedience and passivity for pathetic failures. I actually think it is worse.”

Or this,

“There is a lot to unpack there, it is the absolute purposelessness of OWS that gives it power.

This could mean that all instrumentalism deriving its efficacy under an authority of a state and legal process…is violence. That means all moderate reformers. I always wonder about the guys with the nukes and surveillance state and police power at their backs claiming to have the moral authority of non-violence.”

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Data Tutashkhia 05.09.12 at 3:47 pm

But I was just explaining how this can become a pet prejudice. Some people get annoyed at people who sound like pharisees; there is a historical precedent. This, and the fact that ‘consensus/human rights’ liberalism is a half of the dominant ideology, the other half being market liberalism. That’s also annoying.

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