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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

To contact me about organizing, email me at rpwolff750@gmail.com




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Saturday, March 1, 2014

A REPLY TO JERRY FRESIA

In a long comment to the conclusion of my two-part post, Jerry Fresia asks a deep and important question to which there are no easy answers.  Here is his entire comment:

 

"“This effort, if it is to succeed, must be grounded in the simple ideas set forth in my Credo….” You probably mean more than “ground in ideas,” but it is “ideas” -as abstractions - that get all the credit. This sole emphasis on ideas generally troubles me.   One of the nice thing about your analyses is that you regularly make reference to non-ideas as having revolutionary import. Let’s call these non-ideas “simple pleasures;” simple, much like the ideas in your Credo, in that they are available to everyone and fundamental to the living of a just life in a just society.  For example, I loved the distinction you made between “hearing a sound” and “making a sound.” The latter issues in a “special pleasure,” you say – and here I infer that that special pleasure cannot be available to the listener in the same way.  You have shown to us the Marcusean argument “that the great works of art, literature, philosophy and music of our cultural tradition play an essential and unexpectedly subversive role….these works keep alive, in powerful and covert ways, the fantasies of gratification, the promise of happiness, the anger at necessary repression, on which radical political action feeds,” and which awakens “the unquenchable thirst for liberation from which social progress must come.” And then there’s the story of Archimedes whose chief concern is that the Roman soldiers do not disturb “his circles.”  Can we say, then, that “this effort” will spring not just from the ideas of your Credo but also, and necessarily, from the simple pleasures that each of us come to cherish all the while living within the womb of capitalism?"

 

Let me broaden Jerry's question in a way that does not, I think, do violence to it:  To what motivations, what sources of psychic energy, can we appeal in seeking to move men and women to truly transformative social action?  [I refrain from using the more familiar adjective "revolutionary" because of its complex associations in Western political discussions.]  There are two such sources with which I am familiar, and which have again and again served as the motivating springs for great and rapid social change:  The first is religious fervor, which surely has, in its various forms, brought larger social change more rapidly than any other single force unleashed on the world.  The second is powerful, deep-rooted emotions, whether anger and hatred stemming from ressentiment, or hope springing from the dream of liberation.  We saw the first at work in the rise of Nazism and the second in the French Revolution.

It is almost certainly not the case that rational self-interest can serve that purpose.  Men and women guided by calculations of gain and loss tend to make small, cautions moves.  As I remarked in my mini-tutorial on Marcuse, "Workers of the World, Unite!  You have nothing to lose but your IRAs.  You have an incremental improvement in your standard of living to gain!" is not a rallying cry likely to draw many thousands to its banner.

Marcuse argues, persuasively in my judgment, that art keeps alive fantasies of liberation and omnipotence, by virtue of their form [not their content!] that fuel revolutionary action.  It is more generally true that music, dance, theater, poetry, novels, and the visual arts play an essential role in mobilizing and sustaining the non-rational sources of effective social action.  That old familiar boast from the '60s -- We have all the good songs -- expresses an important truth.  Where are the folk songs of the Tea Party, of the anti-abortion forces, of the neo-con celebration of endless imperial war?  No general truth of this sort is without its exceptions.  I will give the imperialists Rudyard Kipling.  But the fact remains that Rational Choice Theory in any of its guises cannot explain why  men and women risk their lives on picket lines or at the barricades.

That is a brief reply to Jerry Fresia.

 

 

1 comment:

Unknown said...

There are songs of innocence and songs of experience