Showing posts from February, 2024

What is Liberalism?

Come with me on an adventure.  We'll see something bewildering, strange, and difficult to understand or even to identify - precisely because it is so familiar.  Yes, we're going home.  The challenge is to solve that strange riddle: what is liberalism? Liberalism is not the same thing as democracy.  Also, liberalism is not about rights.  Karl Marx believed in rights, and fought hard for democracy, and yet was no liberal.  Liberalism is not about any particular policy or political position, or any particular form of government or any philosophy of government.  It is more fundamental than that.  It is an entire worldview.  Historically, it precedes the development of large-scale democratic nation-states with constitutionally-guaranteed rights by centuries. Well, if liberalism is not about democracy or rights, then what is it about?  It can be difficult to say.  Just close this window for a moment, and try to define liberalism.  It might be harder than you think.  But this is not b
  Lenin = aristocracy (the philosopher-king) Stalin = timocracy Khrushchev = plutocracy Gorbachev = democracy Putin = tyranny (This idea just occurred to me.  Not sure if it works.)

The Only Religion in France is the Worship of Language

  The only religion in France is the worship of language.  For most, it is specifically the worship of the French language, but there are some that worship Latin, some that worship Greek, a few that worship Mandarin Chinese, and here and there you can even find some that worship Nambikwara and Tupi-Kagwahiva.  Of course, if you ask them, they will say that all languages are equal, but the implicit privileging of one over another is obvious.


  Marxist theory today is in many ways quite sophisticated, but it is politically immature. There's one question that any self-respecting Marxist theorist should be confronting, with laser focus.  Namely: How come all the attempts at communism become autocratic? Not only has every state that has claimed to be "Actually Existing Socialism" developed an autocratic structure, but even soi-disant Marxist movements in other countries (like the United States, the UK, France, etc.) have a fairly strong and undeniable tendency towards autocratic structure.  No, but seriously, why?  This is not a rhetorical question.  It's a real question.  I honestly, genuinely don't know the answer, and I want to know.   Obviously, answering this question is the absolute priority for any kind of left theory.  After all, so many other problems spring from this fundamental problem.  Marxist movements have a reputation for being autocratic, which leads to many people seeing them as cults

Three Objections to Councilism

Here are three objections to councilism, or three large categories of objections, three gigantic rhetorical obstacles which councilism, if it is to be a serious political force, must somehow overcome. 1. The first category is quite simply that people have never heard of councilism, and don't know what it means.  Either it has simply never occurred to them that the workers themselves might be capable of owning and administering the means of production, or, if it has occurred to them at all, they can't imagine what that would look like, because they've never given it any serious thought.  This is the old problem that, as Jameson and others have put it, "It's easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism."  In other words, it is nothing but a failure of imagination.  Councilism and related concepts simply aren't within the horizon of most people's imaginations as a possibility. As such, if you begin to broach the subje

The Rise of the Earnest Comedian

    The Earnest Comedian is not funny.  The Era of the Earnest Comedian began with 9/11, when John Stewart had a very serious group of episodes of the Daily Show.  The Earnest Comedian is achingly earnest and uniquely equipped to deliver for us our true principles of our era, or rather a principled stand without a principle - a return to "sanity" and consensus in a age of incredulity towards metanarratives.  The Earnest Comedian demonstrates to us what is undeconstructible - that which we must pass over in earnest silence.  Even their very irreverence is itself a kind of reverence, a commitment, even a sense of the holy.  Other examples include Hannah Gadsby, Vladimir Zelinsky, and Bassem Youssef.   The Earnest Comedian has taken the place of the public intellectual.  The Earnest Comedian has a power which a public intellectual (say, Jacques Derrida, in an earlier age) lacked: whereas the public intellectual was expected to have an answer to our questions, or at least some be

The Narrative of Liberation

  In an earlier essay on postmodernism, I pointed out that, contrary to the usual story, there are indeed metanarratives of postmodernity.  And I named a few of them. Better yet, and more simply put: one of the most persistent narratives (meta or otherwise) is the narrative of liberation.  Marxists saw themselves as liberators: see, for instance, "Emancipation of Labour" - the first Russian Marxist group, founded in 1883, which included Georgi Plekhanov, Vera Zasulich, and Pavel Axelrod - the parent organization of what would, decades later, become the Bolshevik party (as well as the Mensheviks, and other groups).  When Jean-Francois Lyotard wrote The Postmodern Condition , he was essentially writing his own autobiographical story of his emergence out of the Marxist movement, and then projecting his own preoccupations onto the history of the 20th century and the general decline, among intellectuals, in faith in various supposedly Marxist regimes.  Of course, the anticommunist

A brief history of the development of capitalism

  The old story goes: imagine Alice and her friend Bert are both hired to cut Mr. Fancypants's 128 lawns.  Alice will mow 64 lawns, and Bert will mow 64 lawns.  Mr. Fancypants gives the two friends a choice: "One of you will be paid a straight wage of $100 a day, and..." [at this point, with a flourish, Mr. Fancypants pulls out a standard chess board] " for the other person, I will give you 1 cent now.  You start cutting lawns tomorrow.  At the end of the day, I will pay you two cents for one day's work" [and here he puts two pennies down on the first square of the chess board] "the day after I will pay you four cents, the next day eight cents, and so on."  Which would you choose?  Without calculating, guess how much Mr. Fancypants will have paid each person at the end of this process. Bert says, "Are you kidding? I'd rather get $100 a day."  Before Alice can object, it has been decided.  And so, after each mowing a lawn, which t