Utopianism v. Radical Democracy

Justin Schwartz jschwart at freenet.columbus.oh.us
Sun Jun 11 20:09:06 MDT 1995

Leo, thanks for confirming that I have the story pretty much right. (My
only carp with your exposition--as a moderately unreconstructed Marxist I
don't care for the content--is your somewhat snooty remark that you need
a Ph.D in philosophy of language to understand this stuff. I _have_ a Ph.D
in philosophy of science and used to do political philosophy
professionally, and I'm not impressed by the philosophical calibre of the
RD theorists I have read. I think Norman Geras has exposed the
inadequacies of Laclau and Mouffe with devastating clarity, in particular.
But in general I think you have to wonder about the--pardon me--class
basis of a supposedly emancipatory theory which you can't (supposedly)
understand without lots of technical training.

Doug, Leo's stuff is nonense, i.e., language devoid of meaning. It's
wrong, we think, and misguided, and pernicious as far as organizing for
emancipation goes. But it's clear what it means--Leo is a lot better here
than Laclau and Mouffe, who are pretty close to utterly opaque.

"Democracy" is difficult conceptually--in RD theory, Marxism, and liberal
political theory. It's just hard. Especially once you get past the simple
an inadequate characterizatiuons of democracy as majority rule. It's no
less hard practically. I'd like to hear from Leo what he thinks democracy
might be, either in general or in a concrete case--maybe he;s given it
some illuminating thought.

--Justin Schwartz

On Sun, 11 Jun 1995, Doug Henwood wrote:

> At 2:30 PM 6/11/95, Justin Schwartz wrote:
> >It has a clear meaning, but not one we like. "Abandon telelogical visions
> >of social change" means that Leo and other RD reject the idea that there
> >are any immanent forces in our society pointing towards socialism, or
> >which might lead to the overthrow of capitalist production relations.
> >"Seek to realise the democractic possibiloity in each historical moment"
> >means that RD deny that there;'s anything structurual in our sort of
> >society (indeed, for Laclau & Mouffe, it makes no sense to talk of sorts
> >of society) blocking democracy: the problem is is simply constraints of
> >somne unbdetermined sort on democracy itself, and the expansion
> >ofdemocracy is something that is brought about by local struggles in alll
> >areas--the economy has no special centrality in this way of thinking. In
> >somne versions of RD, the goal of state power is explicitly eschewed as
> >corrupting.
> You're confirming my worst fears. This is nonsense, empty of any meaning.
> What is "democracy" in this sense? It seems to be a synonym for the warm
> fuzzies. I think I understand why Jim O'Connor said that the 4 pages on
> historical materialism in L&M's HSS were the worst 4 pages ever published
> on anything.
> I suspect that people who say things like this about "the economy" have an
> excessively narrow conception of what an economy is. I also suspect that
> people who say such things are themselves rather comfortable, materially.
> Doug
> --
> Doug Henwood
> [dhenwood at panix.com]
> Left Business Observer
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