Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON
LECTURE ONE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d__In2PQS60
LECTURE TWO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Al7O2puvdDA

ALSO AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ONE THROUGH TEN ON IDEOLOGICAL CRITIQUE



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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

AN ATTEMPT AT CLARIFICATION

Judging from the comments on my response to Andrew Blais' question, I failed to make myself clear.  Let me try yet again.  Andrew asked me how I would imagine a conversation beginning between myself, or those on my end of the political spectrum, and those at the other end.  I thought it was a good question because it seems to me that the persistence in contemporary American society of bitterly opposed factions unable to come to any sort of mutually acceptable composition of their differences is dangerous.  Since the American political system is designed to resolve conflicts of interests, I suggested that whenever and wherever possible, it would be fruitful to separate out disputes that could be construed as conflicts of interest from those that are manifestly conflicts of principle and cannot be viewed in any other way by the opposed parties.

Several people, in emails and in blog comments, argued that underlying even what appear on the surface to be conflicts of interest lie conflicts of principle, with the consequence that my suggestion would likely fail to bear fruit.

I quite agree, though that is not, in my view, a good reason for not trying.  But although I can imagine a conversation between defenders of opposed secular principles that might result in some mutual accommodation or eventual agreement, perhaps by identifying deeper underlying principles on which they could agree, I simply cannot imagine such a result from a conversation with opponents whose principles are grounded in religious conviction. 

It has also been suggested to me that those on the extreme right, despite their brave talk of secession and nullification and Second Amendment remedies, are extremely unlikely actually to take up their guns and start shooting.  I certainly hope that is true.  But I have lived through two-thirds of the twentieth century and as much of the twenty-first as we have seen thus far, and I must say that I am not reassured.  Here in the United States we have seen bombings of medical clinics and fatal assaults on doctors who perform abortions, and in other parts of the world irresoluble conflicts of religious conviction have proved vastly more violent.

I am not desperate, although I am angry, because demographically and in other ways things seem to me to be moving in a direction of which I approve.  But that tendency makes those on the other side even more desperate and bitter, and therein lies the potential for real trouble.  I know there is no very useful comparison to be drawn between contemporary America and Weimer Germany in the 1930's, but I am haunted by the awareness that those living in that sophisticated avant-garde world could not imagine what was about to follow.

14 comments:

Chris said...

I'm probably as much as, if not more of an atheist than you are. The little bit of the bible I've read though suggests Jesus was far to the 'left' (to the degree that someone from 2,000 years can be acclimated into our present political schema). Now it does seem to me that theist like Cornel West and Tavis Smiley aim to push the right to the left via a religious dialogue. Charles Taylor may do the same thing too. I know in 'Democracy Matters' West makes the point that atheist are not going to both convert the religious to atheism AND left wing positions with serious success, therefore the theistic left needs to start developing ways to argue metaethically for their positions against the right. And it shouldn't be too difficult to point that Christ was not a capitalist haha. I think we atheists may be able to take some of their pious principles, and use them to argue left wing positions.

Overall though I think you're right. Dialogue has broken down in the US and I don't see it recovering anytime soon. Hell, as you say, a civil war may be more likely.

Don Schneier said...

I distinguish between "bitterly opposed factions" and contradictory principles. For example, whereas as Democracy can be defined as a combination of Freedom and Equality, Plutocracy entails no commitment to the latter. Thus, regardless of whether proponents of Democracy are bitterly opposed to the Plutocrats with which they have to co-exist, the two principles are contradictory. And, if, as the current prevailing corporate-friendly interpretations of the 1st and 2nd Amendments suggest, the fundamental political struggle is indeed that of Democracy v. Plutocracy, then the image of homogeneous Left-Right spectrum has no bearing on either the reality of the struggle, or an ideal solution. In other words, the political 'center' is neither a fact, nor a noble normative compromise.

Andrew Lionel Blais said...

Thanks for taking the time to think through my question. I hadn't anticipated the distinction between conflicts of interest and conflicts of principle. Much of the follow up seems right. As Marx said, I think, life determines consciousness, or interests determine principles. But, then, the choice seems to be between necessarily fruitless dialog and armed conflict, but what about psychological warfare? The plutocratic right wing uses it everyday to create consensus, maintain the appearance of normality, construct consumer demand, and so on. By the way, how weird that Edward Bernays was Freud's nephew. So, here is a follow up question, given that the plutocratic forces don't think twice about employing psychological warfare, in the form of marketing, and so on, shouldn't the left to likewise? Moreover, what other choice is there? Psychological warfare is, of course, hyperbole, but hyperbole that makes a point, I hope.

Chris said...

Marx at least agreed with you Andrew that ideological warfare was a necessary component for left-wing revolution:

"In studying such transformations it is always necessary to distinguish between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, artistic or philosophic – in short, ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out."

Don Schneier said...

I notice that my old friend Dr. Blais ignores one of my points, with his "plutocratic right wing"--I'd be interested in hearing what bearing the prejudicial concepts 'right' and 'left', which primarily pertain to certain biological facts, have to do with political ideologies. Anyway, to expand on one of my other points, note how Plutocrats commonly pay lip service to the Egalitarian principle--"Equality of opportunity". Now Equality of Opportunity seems to require an equality of conditions for children, which, in turn, seems to require an equality of conditions for their parents. Ergo, the slogan, "out-of-wedlock", functions as an axiom for Plutocrats. So, I regard the countenancing of such a charade not merely as non-obligatory, but as contrary to Reason.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Don, I will let you and Andrew sort this out, but a propos the terms "left" and "right," their origin as political identifiers lies in the seating plan of the National Assembly during the French Revolution, and they have been used that way ever since.

Don Schneier said...

Regardless of their heritage, their usage implies the reality of an ideological continuum between them, with the further implication that the 'center' is a rationally privileged perspective, with respect to which the championing of Democracy is an 'extreme'. The priority of a balanced budget over ending hunger is an example of a policy that is parasitical on that privilege. So, to return to an earlier point, one way that somebody can challenge that priority is by resisting the "left" vs. "right" representation of that, and other issues.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

I don't know about you, but where I grew up, the left was the privilged position. So I just think you are wrong.

Don Schneier said...

That position, which I embrace as my own approximate location, may be privileged, but calling it "the left" diminishes its dignity, for reasons that I've tried to explain. One way to ground that privilege is to claim it, on the basis of the definition that I have suggested, as the home of 'Democracy', and then challenge those who have been successfully marginalizing it for the past several decades to account for their own deviation from it.

Andrew Lionel Blais said...

So, I tricked a republican into painting my fence this afternoon.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Sounds like Tom Sawyer to me.

Andrew Lionel Blais said...

By the end of the day, I had: kite, in good repair, a dead rat and a string to swing it with, twelve marbles, part of a jews-harp, a piece of blue bottle-glass to look through, a spool cannon, a key that wouldn’t unlock anything, a fragment of chalk, a glass stopper of a decanter, a tin soldier, a couple of tadpoles, six fire-crackers, a kitten with only one eye, a brass door-knob, a dog-collar – but no dog – the handle of a knife, four pieces of orange-peel, and a dilapidated old window sash.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Bravo!

Andrew Lionel Blais said...

I've thought about your reply and I'm wondering how the distinction would apply in the case of local politics? E.g., what role could it play in answering the question, "Why are you running to represent precinct six on the city council?"? And, other such questions? Here is another example, the split-tax rate? Although, the business types often couch their story in terms of principles, and property-owners similarly couch theirs. But, it seems obvious that it is a conflict of interests. To put the question in a pragmatic form, how is experience different with the principle/interest distinction? How does it work in such a situation? If at all?