Thursday, November 29, 2007

Critchley’s “ethics as an anarchic meta-politics”

Despite the failures of any number of the theories – and there are many – of its adherents, the framework that Derrida established with the notion of “democracy to come” does not refuse abstraction as such, but only its formulation and development outside of the relation of engagement. That is, the thought of radical politics can itself only come-to thought on the basis of and through acts of ethico-political engagement, and not as the prescriptive incarnation of universal principles into concrete, material particularities. What is here being refused is any theory that would be deployed in such a way as to be reducible to non-action. And, it is a peculiarity of the “Democracy to Come” that it cannot be invoked without simultaneously insisting on the priority and non-neutrality of the ethical demand to act; and, this action itself always already occurs in the domain of the political – not only is it compromised, but it is partisan [5.]
In this sense, although I have not read anything of Critchley’s book other than the pages 114-123 quoted here, I am heartened by his idea of “ethics as an anarchic meta-politics,” if for no other reason than that he equates the State with the Idealist “fantasy” of the idea of political action, which simply is the very basis for liberal, parliamentary proceduralism. As far as I can see, his project is an absolute refusal of all such illusions – without reserve – and signals the most fruitful way forward for a radical politics.
[1] Despite the obvious brilliance of essays like “Can a Gift Be Given? Prolegomena to a Future Trinitarian Metaphysic” [Modern Theology, 11 (January 1995), 119-61], Milbank’s reading of Derrida on this matter is simply obtuse – and that because of other egregious theological errors that condition that reading. Remember, anything philosophy can do, theology can do better! Cf. also his essay here. And, keeping the work of Graham Priest close at hand, the mere fact that the law of contradiction is violated may – repeat, may – qualify as a paradox, but this does not, nor can it, be elided with theological mystery. (As an aside, in light of Priest’s work, when considered alongside the notion of theological mystery, it might be important, against Lubac’s claim in The Drama of Atheist Humanism, but in continuity with his impulse. to preserve Kierkegaard’s use of “contradiction” rather than his suggestion that “paradox” is more appropriate.)
[2] On this point about the priority of action, thought as a mode of action, and thinking action as distinguished from thinking the idea of action, cf. Maurice Blondel, L’Action: essai d’une critique de la vie et d’une science de la practique (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1950.)
[3] I am undecided on this point since there is something I need to think about regarding these claims and Deleuze.
[4] One would have to include Badiou in this group as well, not only because of the function of the Void in this work, and his Platonism, but also because of what are, in my terms, the blatant proceduralism in his construal of fidelity to the event. He demonstrates this more clearly than other thinker in his category of the “mystic,” which shows his utter inability to actually think the priority of political engagement over the idea of that engagement itself.
[5] As such, when Caputo says that if he did politics, he would develop a liberal democracy, it seems to me he is actually violating the ethical demands implicit in his invocation of that messianic vision. Posted by JD Filed in
Christian theology, Idealism, Milbank
Responses to “Theorizing Political Practice (II): On Why the “Democracy to Come” Is Not the Perfection of Liberal Ideology, and May Be Its Cure” An und für sich
Dave Belcher Says: Wednesday, November 28, 2007 at 3:07 pm ...Milbank “agrees” with liberation theology on this point–before moving beyond them of course…and that is significant, that he must move beyond them on precisely this point–but for Milbank this begins and ends as a theorized principle of a universal…quite the opposite is obviously the case for liberation theology when they make this same claim…it grows from out of their engagement in the base communities, with the political situation of the poor in the various contexts of Latin America.
Also, on Kierkegaard’s “contradiction”: absolutely. The “paradox” in SK is “the absurd,” not for its logical contradictoriness but because of the impossibility of thinking the God-man…Christendmom is in that sense much easier to swallow. What is even better, Johannes Climacus requires the next step: to think that which cannot be thought.
Where is that Caputo quote from?…that’s really disappointing (like a [BAD] negative play (a double-negative, as we’ve come to expect from Caputo) on Heidegger’s “If I were to write a theology the word Being would not appear in it”). I’ve been saying for years that the most brilliant thing that Caputo has ever formulated is the insight from Prayers and Tears that one must ceaselessly pray for that which cannot arrive to come…as if it is coming.
These are all kind of asides…I’ll respond to the main thesis later…I’m crazy-writing right now. By the way, I have a new baby girl.
Brad Johnson Says: Wednesday, November 28, 2007 at 6:49 pm While I am taken by the ingenuity of your analogy between Milbank & Zizek, I’m not sure I agree with your assessment of “non-action.” To point at the thinking of non-action is not to diminish the demand to act. It is “non-active” only in the sense that it escapes conceptualization, not that it hasn’t happened.
The originary decision (for Schelling / Zizek, the decision to begin) is a more real decision prior to its conceptualization than it is after. It may only make sense after the fact or retroactively, but even then there is a haunting of the remainder, the haunting of this non-act impossibly and actually acting — the trauma of that originary act that is not a part of the “proportionate” reflection that turns it into something. As such, in my view, the thinking of the non-act is itself a more sustained engagement than what you cite as preferable. In effect, the “democracy to come” has always already come, and it is the task of “therapy,” aka reflective engagement, now to engage the trauma of it having done so. (In this sense, Z.’s appeal to the “not-all” is helpful.) The trauma of the non-active political act, of a disproptionate democracy that is not reducible to thinking, for me, opens it to a new kind of activity: that of beginning anew repeatedly (each time, in a sense, always, “for the first time”).

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