Po-Mo critiques

Andy Daitsman adaitsma at mail.cc.trincoll.edu
Fri Feb 24 03:14:34 MST 1995


Gotta confess that I've temporarily misplaced my copy of Bhaskar, so the
critique of the four-stage dialectic will have to wait awhile...

In the meantime, though, I've been doing some other reading and I came
across the following that I wanted to drop on you folks for comment.
Without further ado:

"A central promise of Enlightenment and Western modernity is that conflicts
between knowledge and power can be overcome by grounding claims to and the
exercise of authority in reason.  Reason both represents and embodies truth.
 It partakes of universality in two additional ways: it operates identically
in each subject and it can grasp laws that are objectively true; that is,
are equally knowable and binding on every person.  This set of beliefs
generates one of the foundational antinomies in Enlightenment
thinking--superstition/domination versus knowledge/freedom (emancipation).

"Knowledge in this scheme has a curious double character.  It can be
simultaneously neutral and socially beneficial (powerful).  The
Enlightenment hope is that utilizing truthful knowledge in the service of
legitimate power will assure both freedom and progress.  This will occur
only if knowledge is grounded in and warranted by a universal reason, not
particular "interests."  The accumulation of more knowledge (the getting of
more truth) results simultaneously in an increase in objectivity
(neutrality) and in progess.  To the extent that power/authority is grounded
in this expanding knowledge it too is progressive, that is, it becomes more
rational and expands the freedom and self-actualization of its subjects who
naturally conform their reason to its (and their) laws.  Power can be
innocently or purely emancipatory; "rational" power can be other than and
not productive of new forms of domination.  Such power can be neutral (it
cannot hurt anyone) and transparent in its exercise and effects.  Hence it
is not really power at all, especially when it works by/through such neutral
mediums as the law.

".... Liberal political theorists from John Locke to John Rawls attempt to
distinguish legitimate authority from domination by listening for and
recording Reason's voice.  They claim they are articulating a set of rules
or beliefs in Reason's own language.  In order to hear Reason's language a
rite of purification must be undergone (imagining a "state of nature" or
drawing the "veil of ignorance" around oneself) to strip away the merely
contingent or historical.  The rights or rules that are truly Reason's own
and hence binding on all will then re-present themselves.  Conformity to
these (neutral) laws by the state and its subjects guarantees the
rationality, justice, and freedom of both.

"Marxists have their own variant of this dream.  Their "objective" ground
tends to be History rather than Reason, although in their account History
itself is ultimately rational, purposive, unitary, law governed, and
progressive.  In the Marxist view, events in history do not occur randomly;
they are connected by and through an underlying, meaningful, and rational
structure comprehensible by reason/science.  The pregiven purpose of history
is the perfection of humans (especially through labor) and the
ever-more-complete realization of their capacities and projects.  Marxist
theory and its articulator (the Party, the working class, the engaged
intellectual) have a privileged relation to History.  They speak but do not
construct its "laws" and legitimate their actions by invoking its name.
Since History, like Reason, has an essentially teleological and homogeneous
content, we can look forward to its "end."  Then all sources of irresolvable
conflicts or contradictions will disappear and authority will take the form
of the administration of things rather than the domination of persons.
Power will be innocent and human actions, in cornformity with our highest
and most emancipatory potentials."

Jane Flax, "The End of Innocence," in Judith Butler and Joan W. Scott, eds.,
_Feminists Theorize the Political_ (New York: Routledge, 1992), pp. 447-449.

All of which raises a couple of questions.  First, does Flax accurately
situate Marxism within the Enlightenment tradition?  (It seems to me that
she does.)  And second, how can "Marxism" respond to this critique, and
remain Marxist?

It's the second one that I have trouble answering...

Andy



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