5 Oct 2011

The Left: Inept or unwilling?

Political theory has too often proved a battering ram for the right, sophisticated theory is good, doubt is good but there has been during the 1990s onwards an intellectual assault on political activity.

Ethics has left the world inflames.

This from Jodi Dean's excellent blog expresses the problem more clearly than I can.

Inept or unwilling?

I've been wondering about the problem of the left. Is it inept or unwilling?

I think the latter (although I can be persuaded by those who wish to argue, "why choose?").

Much left discussion laments how the left doesn't have any idea, can't get its act together, etc--as if the problem were a sort of inability to do things, a kind of bumbling fumbling.

But this is mistaken. The actual problem is unwilling--not willing at all.

Once the New Left delegitimized the old one, it made political will into an offense, a crime with all sorts of different elements:

--taking the place or speaking for another (the crime of representation);

--obscuring other crimes and harms (the crime of exclusion);

--judging, condemning, and failing to acknowledge the large terrain of complicating factors necessarily disrupting simple notions of agency (the crime of dogmatism);

--employing dangerous totalizing fantasies that posit an end of history and lead to genocidal adventurism (the crime of utopianism or, as Mark Fisher so persuasively demonstrates, of adopting a fundamentally irrational and unrealistic stance, of failing to concede to the reality of capitalism).

Arch criminal number one: communism (and so the above-mentioned charges participate in the long honored fascist program of first eliminating the communists and then picking off the rest of the unnecessary and inassimilable one by one).

But a politics without representation, exclusion, dogmatism, and utopianism is no politics at all (which is why Schmitt quite rightly sees liberalism as lacking a politics). It is instead an ethics. Is it any surprise, then, that under neoliberalism ostensible leftists spend countless hours and pages and keystrokes elaborating ethics? the ethics of this or the ethics of that, fundamentally personal and individual approaches that obscure and deny the systems and structures in which they are embedded?


skidmarx said...

I'm definitely up for suggesting that the first is the important factor of the two, but can't quite find the words to articulate that opinion.

Dave Riley said...

Un willing? I'd say that what rules the left is pessimism A pessimism that feeds a schematic myopia..