Tag Archives: Philosophy

Daniel Denvir – Donald Trump’s Reactionary Mind

Link to an interview with Corey Robin, author of The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Donald Trump (2017), conducted by Daniel Denvir:

“Donald Trump’s Reactionary Mind”

 

Bonus links: Liberalism: A Counter History and War and Revolution: Rethinking the Twentieth Century and The Theory of the Leisure Class and “The Left Hand and the Right Hand of the State” and “Slavoj Žižek on Law” and “Slavoj Žižek on Political Struggle”

Notice that basically all of the key points that Robin makes in the interview have already been made by others, going back over a hundred years.  But Robin does simplify a lot of this, for better or worse.  His most dubious claim is that the reactionary project began at the time of the French revolution.  Historical figures/movements like the opponents of the Gracchi tend to indicate this stretches back to classical antiquity, though perhaps not in an unbroken chain.

Ed Rooksby – Review of Domenico Losurdo’s Liberalism: A Counter-History

Link to a review by Ed Rooksby of Domenico Losurdo’s Liberalism: A Counter-History (2005; 2011 trans.).  Losurdo’s counterpart book War and Revolution: Rethinking the Twentieth Century (2015) should also be considered here, because it is arguably a better written (or better translated) book with a better exposition of its central argument.

“Liberalism: An Ideology of Exclusion? (Part 1)”

 

Selected quote:

“How do we make sense of this paradox at the heart of liberalism – the simultaneous invocation of liberty on the one hand and the justification and promulgation of severe forms of oppression on the other? The key to all of this, Losurdo argues, is to grasp that liberalism is founded on an implicit logic of exclusion. Only once we have understood this can we start to resolve the seeming inconsistencies. Liberalism has always pivoted, Losurdo argues, on drawing a dividing line between ‘us’ and ‘them’ – those who are worthy or capable (morally, intellectually, biologically/racially) of the gamut of rights and liberties we associate with liberalism and those who are not. Liberalism was always, of course, centrally concerned with the condemnation and limitation of despotic power and the corresponding assertion of rights to self-government, autonomy and so on – but this struggle was always waged by, and on behalf of, an exclusive section of humanity – what Losurdo terms ‘the community of the free’. The history of liberalism is thus in great part a history of how the particular specification and location of the boundary line between ‘the community of the free’ and the excluded has evolved and shifted.

“With this exclusionary logic in mind we can make sense of the paradoxes of liberal slavery, liberal empire and liberal authoritarianism towards wage labourers and the poor. In each of these three apparent paradoxes we are, in fact, confronting particular instances of the opposition between the justly free and the justly unfree. It is not that the brutal world of slavery, for example, represented a failure or negation of proclaimed liberal values, or revealed the hypocrisy of contemporary liberals, it is that the ‘community of the free’ in which the sphere of liberal rights and freedoms applied did not, and was not intended, to encompass black people. Liberalism, for Losurdo, was never a doctrine of moral universalism. We can see now, how racism and class contempt operated as necessary ideological supports for this system of exclusion. Slavery and colonial expropriation and domination was justified on the grounds that non-white peoples were by definition uncivilised, in a condition of ‘nonage’ (Mill), not fully human or even ‘savage beasts’ (Locke) and were thus rightly excluded from the ‘community of the free’. Similarly, workers and the poor in the metropolis were not intelligent, morally developed or, again, human enough to be admitted into the sacred space of the free community of liberals.

“It is not just that liberalism was long characterised by exclusion for Losurdo – it is also that, to a great extent, the liberty of the community of the free has depended on the exclusion and oppression of the unfree. That is, the relationship between the community of the free and the excluded has been one of exploitation in which the privileges of the former have been rooted in the expropriation and coercion of the unfree. It is here that class relations come into play.”

 

Bonus links: Critical Moral Liberalism: Theory and Practice (“liberal theories often serve as ideological cover for oppression of one group by others.”) and Against Liberalism and “François Furet, 20 ans après”

Shamus Cooke – History Blinded by Anti Socialism

It never ceases to amuse me how the insight of philosophy and psychoanalysis that ideology determines what is or is not a “fact” is proven again and again.  As Rex Butler put it,

“in the analysis of ideology, it is not simply a matter of seeing which account of reality best matches the ‘facts’, with the one that is closest being the least biased and therefore the best. As soon as the facts are determined, we have already — whether we know it or not — made our choice; we are already within one ideological system or another. The real dispute has already taken place over what is to count as the facts, which facts are relevant, and so on.”

Along these lines, Shamus Cooke has reviewed Ken Burns & Lynn Novick‘s mini-series The Vietnam War (2017):

“History Blinded by Anti Socialism: Ken Burns’ Vietnam”

The general tone of Cooke’s criticism reflects this statement by Malcolm X:

“If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”

 

Bonus quote:

“How close we could look into a bright future should two, three or many Vietnams flourish throughout the world with their share of deaths and their immense tragedies, their everyday heroism and their repeated blows against imperialism, impelled to disperse its forces under the sudden attack and the increasing hatred of all peoples of the world!”

Che Guevara, “Message to the Tricontinental,” April 16, 1967

 

Bonus links: The Battle of Chile and “It’s a Fact: Supreme Court Errors Aren’t Hard to Find” (this article engages in a certain kind of criticism that is largely blind to the issue Butler described)

Paulo Freire – Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Paulo FreirePedagogia do Oprimido [Pedagogy of the Oppressed] (Myra Bergen Ramos, trans., Seabury Press, 1970)


Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire is a founding document of the the “critical pedagogy” school of educational theory.  In a nutshell, this school of thought takes MarxistLeninist politics and combines it with the classic Socratic method.  Along the way, it adds post-Leninist insights drawn from Fromm, Mao, Guevara, Fanon, and more.  Freire doesn’t really ever mention it, but he approach is founded on the real Socratic method, not the bastardized anti-socratic thing called “The Socratic Method” in schools, especially western law schools.  He also remains consistent with Leninist aims, citing What Is to Be Done? extensively, but really drawing from The State and Revolution principally.  The most basic insights of “critical pedagogy” is this:

“Cultural action either serves domination (consciously or unconsciously) or it serves the liberation of men and women.”

This flows directly from the Leninist view that everything is political.

“Lenin’s famous statement: ‘Without a revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement’ [What Is to Be Done?] means that a revolution is achieved with neither verbalism nor activism, but rather with praxis, that is, with reflection and action directed at the structures to be transformed.  The revolutionary effort to transform these structures radically cannot designate its leaders as its thinkers and the oppressed as mere doers.”

Freire is immanently practical.  And just as Lenin routinely denounces “reformists” and “opportunists”, Freire picks apart the flaws of accommodations to elites and minor reforms.

“It would be naïve to expect oppressor elites to denounce the myth which absolutizes the ignorance of the people; it would be a contradiction in terms if revolutionary leaders were not to do so, and more contradictory still were they to act in accordance with that myth.”

But he also is great at pointing out common tactical errors of the political left:

“the Left is almost always tempted by a ‘quick return to power,’ forgets the necessity of joining with the oppressed to forge an organization, and strays into an impossible ‘dialogue’ with the dominant elites.  It ends by being manipulated by these elites, and not infrequently itself falls into an elitist game, which it calls ‘realism.'”

Sound like Alexis Tsipras and Syriza in Greece, no? (see also Jodi Dean, Crowds and Party).

This is an excellent book, just as relevant today as when it was written.  It is meant to be readable by general audiences.  One flaw, however, is Freire’s repeated argument that humans are different from animals.  This is basically hypocritical, in that he repeatedly argues that all humans are equal, but tries to convince readers of that point by arguing that humans are superior to other animals.  Aside from the flimsiness of Freire’s argument here, it is one that ecological crisis has conclusively rendered untenable.  As one latter-day Leninist put it, alluding to R. Buckminster Fuller‘s “Spaceship Earth” metaphor:

“We have to accept that we live on a ‘Spaceship Earth’, responsible and accountable for its conditions. At the very moment when we become powerful enough to affect the most basic conditions of our life, we have to accept that we are just another animal species on a small planet.”

Still, that unfortunate argument can be largely ignored.  Given the importance of education to Leninist political philosophy (through the October revolution, Lenin was finally able to institute educational programs that his parents had been blocked from doing under the tsarist autocracy, this being one of his most lasting concrete political achievements), Freire’s views are crucial in expanding upon the the overall organization of education, primarily at a more adult level.

Slavoj Žižek – Beautiful Soul Quote

“They play the Beautiful Soul, which feels superior to the corrupted world while secretly participating in it: they need this corrupted world as the only terrain where they can exert their moral superiority.”

Slavoj Žižek, Refugees, Terror and Other Troubles with the Neighbors: Against the Double Blackmail (2016)

 

Bonus links: Phenomenology of Spirit and Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship

Pascal Blackfoot – Beyond the Class Ceiling

Link to an article by Pascal Blackfoot:

“Beyond the Class Ceiling: Education and Upward Social Mobility”

 

This excellent article explicitly references the work of Pierre Bourdieu.  However, the specific questions address under that theoretical framework resemble Jonathan Cobb and Richard Sennett‘s The Hidden Injuries of Class, and some further examples of the concepts discussed specific to the academic/educational context can be found in books like This Fine Place So Far from Home: Voices of Academics from the Working Class and Strangers in Paradise: Academics from the Working Class

Good Social Science

A major contribution of (good) social science is to uncover and articulate implied meanings, as well as to refute false denials of meaning.  This is to say that human beings are often disingenuous in their explicit statements.  While that statement is hardly shocking (or original), it nonetheless stands in marked contrast to the work of a large swath of academic studies that rely on surveys and take all survey responses at face value, for instance.  More useful is an analysis — often statistical — that largely disregards (or diminishes) stated intents and rationales and instead draws out hidden motivations and benefits.  Take for instance accusations of discrimination, like racism.  Many racists deny that they are in fact racist (often because they rationally understand that such admissions are treated with derision and, sometimes, are prosecuted/redressed), frequently relying instead on a professed mantra of individual choice (or “states rights”, etc.).  These are often subtle attempts to re-frame the discussion away from the kinds of statistical analyses that would show how those purportedly benign personal choice in fact rely upon and support discriminatory “social constructs”.  In a broader sense, this ties in to reliance on a very binary analytical system of individual subjectivity vs. scientific/observable fact that is overly simplistic.  More pernicious are things like “implicit bias” theorizing, which is really a characteristically Liberal response to this issue, and which still accepts the basic individual choice framework (largely side-stepping analysis of “social constructs”) but admits to errors of isolated individuals in order to leave the pre-existing (and unexamined) “social constructs” in place.  Well, and the outright hostility to the very idea of “social constructs,” to wit Margaret Thatcher’s infamous quip, “There is no such thing as society.”

Selected illustrative links: See “A Southern City With Northern Problems” and “Marx’s ‘Capital’ at 150: History in Capital, Capital in History”