Saturday, April 4, 2009
The Forest For the Trees
I recently started reading Confronting the Crisis, the selected writings of the late, great Paul Piccone, founder of the TELOS journal. I wasn't even through Gary Ulmen's introduction when I came across what must be one of the best summations of our political climate to date:
Once the Left had collapsed-New and Old-Paul really came into his own: "The categories of 'Left' and 'Right' are paradigmatically modernist. It is not an accident that they date back to the French Revolution, and that they fade with the decline of modernity. In the early 19th century, the distinction referred primarily to the relation to the French Revolution, with the Right defending the status quo ante, and the Left the new bourgeois regime. Later, after it became clear that there was no way to restore the ancien régime, the categories came to characterize the split between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. But, even that became obsolete with the development of social democracy and the integration of the labor movement into the system at the turn of the century. Subsequently the Bolshevik Revolution introduced a seven-decades-long distortion, which only now is beginning to disappear, whereby Left and Right were identified with political regimes based respectively on capitalism and socialism. The capitalist turn in Communist China and the predominance of social democracy in the capitalist West indicate the extent to which the reduction of politics to economics presupposed by the distinction was a Cold War fraud. Consequently, after 1989, the distinction has become increasingly blurred; it lingers on by default, pending the development of better alternatives and of a political climate that will make it possible to recast the political in terms other than those deployed by the ruling elites.
In other words, how to reconfigure the political is itself a political issue, whose outcome is a function of political struggle. Today, the Left/Right split remains an ideological smokescreen concealing the real distinction: between neo-liberals (as well as neo-conservatives) and communitarians.
The former are committed to ever-growing state intervention, bureaucratic rationality, and the bourgeois values of abstract individuality, formal equality, social justice, representative liberal democracy, and unrestricted inclusiveness. This is the ideology of the therapeutic New Class, camouflaging its axiological particularity as universal truth, proceduralizing politics, and privatizing morality. The hypostatizing of bourgeois values to universal truths warranting their imposition on dissidents, now degraded from political opponents to pathological or criminal cases, is part of that general process of depoliticization entailed by the liberal project from its very beginning: the reduction of politics to administration.
The latter (communitarians) insist on local autonomy, direct democracy, cultural particularity, and traditional values of solidarity, belonging, and the identity of politics and morality. Opponents are neither pathologized or criminalized, but classified as 'enemy' or 'friend' and treated accordingly (within various kinds of confederal, federal, or international agreements) or ostracized, confronted, and, in extreme cases, forcibly coerced."