Friday, May 25, 2007

The Badiou/Delueze/Zizek infatuation has become a sort of academic industry, if not dogma

Malfeasancio Says: May 24th, 2007 at 3:09 pm One can be anti-”Theory”, and yet hold to some progressive goals, and make use of some ideas and concepts from analytical philosophy to further those progressive goals. Thomas Kuhn, I think, is a relevant figure, at least in terms of an epistemological grounding; and Kuhn was as materialist as a 30s marxist. Verification is always an issue, however quotidian; as are probability and induction in general.
In terms of an analytically-informed political foundation, progressives could do worse than attempt to work with say Rawls’ Theory of Justice, or at least some type of reworking of Hobbesian themes; Dennett has alluded to Hobbesian themes on occasion, and really the first 20 chapter or so of Leviathan are not so distant from various Darwinian concerns (tho’ they are considered vulgar or mistaken, most leftists never bother telling anyone WHY they are mistaken, or vulgar).
The Badiou/Delueze/Zizek infatuation has become a sort of academic industry, if not dogma: european marxist intellectuals are awarded some instant credibility that Anglo-Americans are not, and much of that credibility depends on a sort of suspension of disbelief—one agrees to a certain essentialism in regards to mental entities (whether those of psychoanalysis, or metaphysics). The marxist tradition is not sacrosanct; indeed it requires a great leap of faith.
Hobbes rarely demanded any leaps of faith, or resorts to ideology or dogmatic generalizations: he argues for things, as does Locke really, though one might disagree with him. The distrust of any substantial argumentation or disputation characteristic of continental tradition (apres-Derrida at least) is quite bizarre–some argument is allowed, but only with certain assumptions (usually marxist, or psychoanalytic—)…
Steven Says: May 24th, 2007 at 3:56 pm I think traditional liberal thinkers are problematic for radical progressive thought because they are largely concerned with ideological justification for the status quo. This is less true with Locke, but certainly true with Hobbes and Rawls. Actually, I completely fail to see how Hobbes is useful to progressive thought, unless as part of a historical analysis of sovereignty and the logic of sovereign excess, which is how thinkers like Foucault and Agamben have used him. Consistent Hobbism brings you close to an extreme authoritarian position - I think that is wrong, but won’t go completely into why.
As for Rawls, as many thinkers have pointed out, he is basically attempting an ethnocentric apology for American democracy. I would also check out Mouffe’s criticism of his work - succinct and excellent from a progressive point of view. A simple problem with Rawls is this: in order for the disadvantaged to make any legitimate political claims, they have to make basically impossible empirical demonstrations that improving their lot won’t make the entire system worse.
Some critical thinkers have found resources in Locke (see James Tully), but its hard to ignore him as an apologist for slavery and a defender of property. So, one could remain committed to a mainstream liberal form of critique (more rights, more welfare, etc.), but I find that that fails to apprehend the nature of the political situation we find ourselves in and what possible ways there are to change it. I want to address concretely oppressive situations and ‘the system’ as it is presently, and so I find liberal thought only really works as an element for understanding that, but not one for articulating critique or the potential for action.
It is definitely not true that to work in the continental tradition you have to uncritically accept either marxism or pyschoanalysism, but the reality is that those are both enormous influential, especially on various forms of political critique, so you at least have to deal with them. I’m still wary of what I see as some of the authoritarian elements of psychoanalyses, but as far as articulating the mechanisms of capitalism, I find Marxian thought necessary. That does not mean I support the Marxist form of political action as it is often presented. Its also a bit tiring to hear that the only reason anyone cares about continental thinkers is because of some cultish mystique that surrounds them…
Malfeasancio Says: May 24th, 2007 at 5:33 pm As for Rawls, as many thinkers have pointed out, he is basically attempting an ethnocentric apology for American democracy
No. Many marxist ideologues have said that; in many ways, Rawls was trying to overcome some of the problems of democracy (as was Hobbes in a sense). But the ideologues rarely bother to provide any sort of detailed critique anyway: to most leftists, political philosophy is about equivalent to like aesthetics, and Hobbes and Rawls are both tres sauvvage.
The marxist critique overlooks the fact that contractualists attempt to ground an objective, economic entitlement without recourse to metaphysics (i.e. Hegelian ghosts), psychology or any sort of intuitionist givens. That said, I agree that Locke’s criticism of Hobbes’ conclusions in Leviathan are correct, and that the right to petition the govt. for grievances is fundamental, as is Due Process of all types, however quaint that seems to continentalists. I believe Hobbes felt rights were sort of superfluous, given the proper sort of objective, covenant-enforcing sovereign in place (imagine a Leviathan ‘Bot). But he also was cynical enough to realize that once the sovereign turns tyrant, society returns to a state of nature and anarchy more or less. Hobbes’s thinking in Lev. is not so far from say Nietzsche’s anti-statist ideas initially, but his conclusions are quite different.
Really contracturalists are trying to circumvent the problems of democracy, consensus, utilitarian hedonism etc., OR a non-democratic marxist–or fascist– state. Hobbes does not say the sovereign simply takes power–he argues that rational humans would serve their interests best by entrusting their covenants and contract enforcement to a sovereign ( which is not necessarily a monarch).
The discussion in the Leviathan of ethical and economic foundation is what remains interesting: the process leading up to the sovereign. Few leftists even bother with a discussion of political process, or of economic “justice”, entitlement, etc. ; Hobbes or Kropotkin or even JK Galbraith have all been replaced by the aesthetes, the theorists, the psychologists.

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