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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

THE IDEOLOGY OF SPACE CONSCIOUSNESS CONCLUSION


The colonial expansion that eventuated in the establishment of the United States has its own particular version of the ideology of space, captured perfectly in the opening pages of one of the most successful college American History textbooks of the twentieth century, The American Pageant, by Thomas A. Bailey.  Bailey, by the way, at one point served as the President of the leading professional organization in the field, the Organization of American Historians.  He introduced generations of readers to the colonization of the North American continent with these words:

"The American republic, which is still relatively young, was from the outset singularly favored.  It started from scratch on a vast and virgin continent, which was so sparsely peopled by Indians that they could be eliminated or pushed aside.  Such a magnificent opportunity for a great democratic experiment may never come again."

The American continent was, to be sure, "virgin," in the eyes of English colonists, because not a single square foot of it had attached to it a claim of property that an English court was bound to observe.  The claims of the local inhabitants to hunting grounds, grazing lands, territorial boundaries or sacred burial sites were null and void, so far as an English magistrate was concerned.  Indeed, in many cases they were not even recognized as claims at all.  Deeply embedded in the American consciousness is the belief that, as Americans, they have an unassailable right to everything between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.  It is striking to contrast this with the claims advanced by the Germans or the Russians or the French to borderlands, claims that inevitably run up against counter-claims from other nations that must at least be attended to and rebutted.

I encountered a fascinating variant of the American myth of the virgin continent several years ago when Susie and I made a brief three-day visit to Israel.  We hired a guide, an officer in the Army Reserve, who drove us here and there to see the sights.  At one point he paused and waved his hand toward a large valley, which, I suspected, had for many years prior to the establishment of Israel been populated by Palestinians.  "There was nothing here until we came," he said, clearly meaning all of Israel and the Occupied Territories, not simply that valley.  It was at  roughly that moment that I began to regret our decision to detour to Israel on our way to Paris.

I have spoken of the ideological conception of space that underlies International Capitalism, Traditional Patriotism, Imperialism, and Colonialism, but what of Revolutionary Socialism?  As we should expect if we have been paying close attention to Marx, the ideology of socialism is an evolution beyond that if capitalism, not a throwback to earlier ideological orientations.  Like Capitalism, Revolutionary Socialism is unambivalently international in orientation.  [Hence the unofficial anthem of the movement, The Internationale.]  It organizes the world not spatially but along class lines, treating national borders as obstacles to be overcome.  If there is a space that carries any ideological freight in the imagination of a revolutionary socialist, it is not a region but a demarcation: the barricade, which is to say, the line, wherever it is, that divides the working class from the ruling class.   When the First World War broke out, socialists around the world [including my  own grandfather] confidently expected French and German working men to refuse to fight their comrades facing them in the trenches.  The utter frustration of that hope crushed a dream that had been several generations in the making.

With the orientation toward space of Revolutionary Socialism we may contrast that of Utopian Socialism, or more generally of Utopianism.  Utopia is a word coined by Sir Thomas More and used as the title of a book.  The word means "nowhere" [see Samuel Butler's Erewhon and Erewhon Revisited], but it also is a pun on a very similar Greek word meaning "a nice place."  Marx had great disdain for the critics of nineteenth century capitalism whom he dubbed Utopian Socialists because their speculative descriptions of ideal societies were, he thought, not grounded in any sort of analysis of the reality of capitalism as they experienced it.

An interesting modern version of this rootless speculative political philosophy is A Theory of Justice, by John  Rawls, whose "veil of ignorance" is conceived as an objective, neutral standpoint free of parti pris.  In fact, of course, the book turns out on examination to be an ideological rationalization of late twentieth century welfare state capitalism.

And with that, I conclude my effort to suggest how we might do for the consciousness of space what Mannheim does so brilliantly for the consciousness of time.  These are no more than preliminary notes, but I hope you found something of interest in them.

2 comments:

Unknown said...

There is some reason to think that North America was relatively empty as a result of repeated pandemics.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

So who were the locals with whom the colonists traded and made military alliances?