This week I had a chance to read the new, Radical Intellectuals and the Subversion of Progressive Politics: The Betrayal of Politics, which is full of links to performance-style kritik Affs to the capitalism K.
A sample is included below. There are also a good number of additional cards in this file. Since I haven’t finished carding it yet, I will continue to update the file.
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Identity politics, anti-empirical theories of power, discussions of discourse, focusing on “difference” and “subjectivity” splinters anti-capital political resistance and sustains the neoliberal order
Gregory Smulevich–Tucker & Michael Thompson, September 2015, Radical Intellectuals and the Subversion of Progressive Politics: The Betrayal of Politics, kindle edition, page number at end of card Thompson is a Political Scientist @ William Patterson University, Smulevich-Tucker is a philosophy professor @ Baruch
Once grounded in the Enlightenment impulse for progress, equality, rationalism, and the critical confrontation with asymmetrical power relations, the dominant trends of radical political thought now evade the concrete nature of these concerns. The battles that raged in the 1980s and 1990s between postmodernists and defenders of modernity— while serving as a harbinger of the contemporary split between the radical theorists divorced from reality and those who seek to establish antifoundationalist conceptions of democratic discourse— were attached to a strong sense that the future of rationalism and radical politics hung in the balance. Today’s radical intellectuals do not feel compelled to defend their arguments or respond to their critics. Their purported radicalism becomes all the more opaque when the coherence of their claims is called into question. A concern for an exaggerated subjectivity, identity politics, antiempirical theories of power, an obsession with “difference”— all serve to deplete the radical tradition of its potency. Radical intellectuals now formulate new vocabularies, invent new forms of “subjectivity,” and concoct new languages of discourse that only serve to splinter forms of political resistance, consigning radicalism to the depths of incoherence and (academic success notwithstanding) political irrelevance.
Indeed, the disintegration of the great movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries— from the labor movement to the civil rights movement— has detached philosophical thinking from the mechanisms of power and political reality more broadly. The result has been— despite the ironic new turn toward “antiphilosophy”— the conquest of politics by poorly constructed philosophy. Abstraction has been the result, as well as a panoply of shibboleths that have only served to sever “radical” thought from its relevance to contemporary politics and society. It seems to us that the survival of the tradition of rational, radical political and social criticism pivots on a confrontation with these new academic trends and fads. The rise of this new radicalism is largely due to the success of liberalism on the one hand and the collapse of Marxism on the other. Liberalism has been highly successful at incorporating many of the social movements that have emerged throughout the twentieth century: the rights of women and minorities, a basic social security and welfare state scheme for the poor, and the recognition of different sexual identities and preferences— all have found their place to some degree within the modern liberal state. As a result, these movements, which, in their earlier, more radical phase of development, saw their struggles in connection with the struggles of working class interests, were cleaved off and given pieces of the political pie. This resulted, as Theodore Lowi has argued, in a conservatism of these interest groups as they protect their interests. 2 The collapse of Marxism not only weakened labor movement radicalism, it caused a more general intellectual breakdown on the Left. With its emphasis on science and knowledge of objective social processes, Marxism’s disintegration left a theoretical vacuum that was now to be filled by the very cultural concerns produced by capitalist economic life itself. The post-Fordist, flexible accumulation of late capitalism, and its emphasis on ephemeral fashion, personalized technology, and mass consumption, has led to an anomic self-absorption where objective political concerns have become abstract. 3 As consumerism and mass culture continues to weaken class consciousness the social order becomes increasingly legitimized forcing radical politics into the domain of the mind and the realm of spectacle. The personal now morphs into the political, and class drops out as a category of power-analysis and as an organizing variable of society. Theory now follows the superstructural stream of consciousness and politics becomes, for the new radical mandarins, a sphere of self-promotional platitudes. What is left over from these two intellectual– political shifts is the context within which the new radicalism begins. What we are calling here a “betrayal of politics” can be seen to consist of several impulses that have had a deep and debilitating effect on progressive politics. First has been a shift toward a radical “non-foundational” or even “anti-foundational” thought. According to this philosophical view, in its more radical forms, the social world (and even the natural world) is constructed by subjects no longer possessing any kind of foundations for knowledge. The “myth of the given,” or the proposition that the social world is essentially constructed by subjects and discourse, is a basic starting point. There is no longer a need to rely on foundations for knowledge nor need we possess universal or rational justifications for political or ethical propositions and ideas. Political reality is the product not of concrete mechanisms of resource control and the organization of social structure but of discourse. 4 On this view, the site of politics becomes the struggle between and over the discursive narratives of the political and social. ]Now, political subjectivity is to be created, indeed, even “invented” and pushed against the state. The constructivist epistemology adopted by these thinkers is seen as liberating politics from the “realities” of class and social structure. As one advocate of this thesis argues, political subject-formation “cannot be articulated in relation to a pre-given socio-economic identity like that of the proletarian, but has to be invented or aggregated from the various social struggles of the present.” 5 These discourses and subjectivities are particularist in nature, even as they assert themselves as universals. This kind of thinking “is bound to discourse, literally narratives about the world that are admittedly partial.” 6 The politics that follows from this necessarily eschews formal political institutions, even as it becomes an increasingly abstract affair for academics only. Even more, it no longer sees exploitation and domination in concrete, material terms. As Robert Meister has insightfully argued, “As soon as the paradigm of language supplants the model of production, exploitation appears as merely another way of being misunderstood.” 7 The result is not political resistance in any meaningful sense of the term, but the “spectacle” of political demonstrations or some puerile display of public “art.” 8 In the meantime, more politically mature and reactionary forces have been able to roll back the welfare state, consolidate economic and political power, and help craft a neoliberal social order.