Saturday, May 20, 2006

Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Part II

The contemporary "culture wars" are fought on numerous fronts. But there are two basic alliances: the Enlightenment, and the forces of reaction. (Both the fomer and the latter have both intellectualist/elitist and anti-intellectual/populist versions.)

The Enlightenment Underground sides with the spirit of Enlightenment against the rhetoricians of reaction and true believers. This may appear to make us seem less radical and militant than we are. Make no mistake: the Enlightenment Underground is a militant and radical Enlightenment. We are not reformists, or if we are, it is as a matter of tactic, not temperament.

Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud have become known as critics of the Enlightenment. This is so foolish that it can hardly be credited to anything other than historical short-sightedness. They are critics of what was formerly known as "the bourgeosis" -- but no Enlightenment which could be simply identified with the bourgeosie could be worth having.

The Enlightenment Underground understands that Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud have carried forwards the radical Enlightenment, which (alone?) has the power to keep the moderate Enlightenment honest and true to itself.

The radical Enlightenment has always been materialist, radical, and militant, from Spinozism and the Diggers and Levellers down to our own time. Marx, Nietzsche and Freud criticize the instabilities and tensions of bourgeois subjectivity from a position within it -- in this way they best exemplify the very spirit of Enlightenment, of critique, and the possibility of utopia.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Dr. Spinoza,

Thanks for your clear-cut (Marxist?) reading of the modern version of The Enlightenment:

The Enlightenment Underground is a militant and radical Enlightenment. We are not reformists, or if we are, it is as a matter of tactic, not temperament.

I can't quite follow you there. I guess I'm too bourgeois (or "Rortian" for that).

I'm quoting Richard Rorty in his essay in (my strongly recommended) What's Left of Enlightenment? - A Postmodern Question. Stanford University Press, 2001 when he says in his piece "The Enlightenment and Postrmodernism" in an answer to John Gray that he (Rorty) is a defender of "post-modernist bourgeois liberalism". So am I.

Rorty writes: "But my kind of neo-Nietzschean (then) goes on to express his or her devout conviction that it is the best form of political life yet invented.

This is of course Popper's "piece-meal social engineering" expressed in American liberalism - or better: in the Scandinavian social democratic welfare system.

PS: Nota bene: Yusef's Deleuzian quote about revolutionaires.

Thanks again for your interesting post,

Orla Schantz

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Blogger Dr. Spinoza said...

I think that there are stark limits to the sorts of things that Rorty can say, given the constraints that his position imposes on him. These limits become clear in looking at his conversations with allies on his further to the left, such as Cornel West and Nancy Fraser. Some of these issues are also vividly rendered in the exchanges in Rorty and His Critics.

As I implied above, however, I do not disdain "piece-meal social engineering." Piece-meal social engineering may be the most efficient or most prudent course of action, in light of other factors. It may also stand a greater chance of practical success than would insurrection. But that's a tactical decision.

Gandhi couldn't understand why the Jews didn't practice nonviolent resistance to the Nazis. In some conditions, nonviolence is appropriate; in others, it is not. I am not even going to rule out terrorism on ethical grounds. Several years ago, a close friend of mine (whose fiance is Palestinian) got me to acknowledge that if I were living in conditions like those under which many Palestinians live, I would consider terrorism as a response to those conditions. Since then, I have abandoned the hypocrisy of pretending otherwise.

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