At a time when the left is struggling to redefine itself and respond to current political and economic crises, a series of trends in contemporary theory has reshaped the ways that politics is understood and practiced. Older thinkers such as Michel Foucault, Jacques Lacan, and Jacques Derrida, and newer voices like Alain Badiou, Jacques Rancière, David Graeber and Judith Butler, among others, have risen to the status of academic and cultural icons while their ideas have become embedded in the “logics” of new social movements. As some aspects of the recent Occupy Wall Street demonstrations have shown, political discourse has become increasingly dominated by the impulses of neo-anarchism, identity politics, post-colonialism, and other intellectual fads.
This new radicalism has made itself so irrelevant with respect to real politics that it ends up serving as a kind of cathartic space for the justifiable anxieties wrought by late capitalism, further stabilizing its systemic and integrative power rather than disrupting it. These trends are the products as well as unwitting allies of that which they oppose.
Perhaps Hegel was right after all, and rather than keep attempting to resuscitate a dying political tradition, we should look to facilitate a new synthesis.
…adding, since we’re on the theme of “whither the left?”, this essay from David Auerbach is also very good. There’s even a handy graph!
Today’s Moralist accepts a more moderate version of the Structural critiques of the Theory Cluster, acknowledging that good intentions may mask underlying prejudice at the individual and societal level. But the Moralist also reverts to a more Ethical focus, demanding of individuals that they comprehend the Structural framework, struggle against it, and finally emancipate themselves from it. At its extreme, the Moralist Cluster is embodied by the callout, the act of finding fault and inadequacy in the words or actions of another, which, even when well-intentioned, nevertheless constitute a betrayal of leftist ideals. Indeed, the good intentions are themselves problematic since they, in their seeming innocuousness, may succeed in obscuring a malevolent force of injustice. The callout demands that the target rectify this mistake (and so doing, alleviate suspicion) by staging a public or semi-public admission of fault and aggrievement, and applying for absolution from a community of his, her, or its cultural peers.
Leftists may draw ideas and practices from any of the four quadrants, but the further apart two principles are, the more likely they are to come into tension with one another. (Thus, individuals will tend to themselves take ideas and positions that are closer to one another rather, inasmuch as they tend toward coherency and consistency.) Many internecine struggles within the left can productively be understood as resulting from the distance between positions on the graph. In particular, the far leftist attitude toward liberalism is not a consequence of marginalization nor of resentment per se, but instead stems from the sense that liberalism is in fact the most virulent danger facing leftism today, the true center of reactionary and conservative forces—the space where these forces lie hidden rather than out in the open, and, thus cloaked, frustrate the possibility of real change.