Tuesday, April 15th, 2008

looks promising;

Fred, my grandad, was another pragmatist. He had a big plumbing shop in Salford near Strangeways prison on this green hillock. Eighteen apprentices. His idea of a good time was reading a book on plumbing, on how to dispose of shit.

He’d stand outside Strangeways and recruit ex-prisoners, get them making lathes and pipes. At the time they were recruiting for the army and he’d say, “You’ve got a choice – you either go to Ireland or you come with me.”

I bump into them when I’m in Manchester sometimes – fellows who are about 55. They just come up and say, “You’re Fred’s grandson, aren’t you?” and I’ll be thinking, “Oh fucking hell. What are they going to say now?” But they’re really complimentary – they say things like, “Your grandad met me outside Strangeways one Wednesday afternoon, and he turned my life around.” Different times then, different people, unlike the ungrateful musicians I employ.

They say that there’s a generation gap: you’re not actually like your mam and dad, you’re more like your grandfather or grandmother. In this respect I had more in common with my grandad than I did with my dad – just hiring people off the street. If they go, they go, if they don’t, they don’t. I’m not really bothered where people come from. Mind you, I don’t understand why everyone makes such a big deal about where they go, either. The other members of the Fall came, they saw, they fucked off, and now I no longer see them. I find it all very boring, to be honest.

read the rest

Here is the paper I have mentioned in previous posts that uses Marx and Adorno to critique pluralist democratic theory. Have a gander and leave helpful comments if you fancy:

Problematizing Pluralism
Chris O’Kane
Paper prepared for NYSPSA


The importance of Karl Marx’s On the Jewish Question has re-emerged in light of the myriad of recent scholarship on what is variously termed pluralism or the politics of difference. Marx’s early polemic against Bruno Bauer addresses the question of how to integrate the Jews into German society. In marked contrast to Bauer’s argument that political incorporation and the renunciation of religion will solve the matter, Marx draws a distinction between political and human emancipation and argues that political emancipation does not fully resolve the oppression of Jewish identity. Marx argues this is because political emancipation does not account for the mediating influence of the historic conditions of civil society, which creates the antagonistic identities of the German and the Jew. For Marx, it is only human emancipation that will do away with this antagonism;

All emancipation is a reduction of the human world and relationships to man himself.

Political emancipation is the reduction of man, on the one hand, to a member of civil society, to an egoistic, independent individual, and, on the other hand, to a citizen, a juridical person.

Only when the real, individual man re-absorbs in himself the abstract citizen, and as an individual human being has become a species-being in his everyday life, in his particular work, and in his particular situation, only when man has recognized and organized his “own powers” as social powers, and, consequently, no longer separates social power from himself in the shape of political power, only then will human emancipation have been accomplished.

In his lecture on “Negative Universal History,” Theodor W Adorno makes a parenthetical critique of pluralism that I will try to show has a devastating impact on pluralist democratic theory. This is because despite the fact that many pluralists utilize Adorno’s notion of the particular to advocate their politics of difference, Adorno critiques pluralism as ideological.
Following Marx, Adorno asserts that instead of addressing the conditions in civil society that oppress these divergent and antagonistic identities, pluralism operates ideologically because it taking these conditions as a given and falsely reconciles them with the very conditions that oppress them. Here Marx’s notion of the inadequacy of political emancipation absorbs pluralism;

“The term ‘pluralism’ is acquiring increasing currency in our own time. It is presumably the ideology describing the centrifugal tendencies of a society that threatens to disintegrate into unreconciled groups under the pressure of its own principles… As a minor by-product of these lectures I would like to recommend that you adopt an extremely wary attitude towards the concept of pluralism, which like the similar concept of ’social partners,’ is preached at us on every street corner. To transfigure and ideologize the elements of discontinuity or of social antagonisms in this way is a part of the general ideological trend. In the same way, it is very characteristic of our age that the very factors that threaten to blow up the entire world are represented as the peaceful coexistence of human beings who have become reconciled and have outgrown their conflicts. This is a tendency which barely conceals the fact that mankind is beginning to despair of finding a solution to its disagreements.” (93)

This paper examines how Adorno’s critique problematizes the new pluralist democratic theory. It will utilize the distinguished work of Iris Marion Young and Will Kymlicka as examples of this scholarship. By updating Adorno’s critique to address the new pluralist democratic theory, I will argue that Young and Kymlicka reify the repression of pluralist identities created by the historical conditions in civil society by treating them as a given and incorporating them into the democratic political sphere. But, this political emancipation is not human emancipation. For under Young and Kymlikca’s democratic model, oppressed groups are still subject to the historical, social and economic conditions that created the antagonisms that led to their oppression. In other words, a political pluralism that allows for the heterogeneity that diverse groups demand is inadequate because by arguing for a democratic solution in the political sphere, it masks the root cause of oppression, forcing the oppressed groups to be reconciled with the historical social and economic conditions that oppress them.
Following Adorno’s use of Marx’s concepts of use-value and exchange-value as normative concepts, I will argue that these democratic models meets Adorno’s definition of ideology because Young and Kymlicka’s reified arguments for incorporation conflate use-value with exchange-value, ultimately perpetuating the problem they are trying to solve.
This is because Kymlicka and Young’s models modify the liberal democratic sphere to include oppressed group identities. In doing so they assume that participation in a modified liberal democratic model has an inherent use-value for these groups. (democracy will meet the needs of the oppressed groups because it is democracy.) But, on the basis of my prior distinctions between political and human emancipation and the political and civil sphere, I contend that this is actually exchange-value. This is because instead of identity functioning qualitatively as a use-value to meet the needs of the individuals identity, it is absorbed into the political realm where it functions as a quantity; it becomes one vote. But, for reasons already explained this vote does nothing to satisfy the needs of oppressed people with these identities. Therefore, following Adorno and in contrast to Young and Kymlicka, these oppressed groups should actually demonstrate the false reconciliation of the capitalist totality and the impossibility of the argument for a political solution. They should serve as the basis for an argument for human emancipation. But, due to the ideological nature of the new pluralism, they are bartered for a stake in pre-existing conditions. Pre-existing conditions that do not entail the creation of a society that instead of oppressing these groups (in the civil sphere) and treating them as any other (in the political sphere) will provide for them and treat them as they desire.
But, this critique is not meant to dismiss the problem of heterogeneity. It is obviously an important contemporary issue that must be adequately addressed by including a critique of civil society in arguments for human not political emancipation. In briefly turning to the works of Zizek, Angela Davis and Said I hope to demonstrate that this is possible.