It is 4:30 a.m. and I think that is a trifle too early to commence my morning walk, so I shall while away the time by replying to a very interesting question posed by Magpie [I really love these web aliases -- if I am not mistaken, Magpie is an Australian academic.] Here is what Magpie says:
"[I]n your Mannheim tutorial you mentioned that Mannheim conceived the "free-floating intellectual" as a workaround to the relativism resulting from the ideology problem. This "free-floating intellectual", however, was clearly a self-serving solution. Besides, how could one defend one's perception of being a "free-floating intellectual", if one were challenged by another would-be "free-floating intellectual" with opposed views? So, Mannheim's solution is not a very good one. But, is there any other solution?"
Magpie is of course quite right. Mannheim's "solution" is so manifestly self-serving as to be a tad embarrassing, although I suspect in the social and intellectual context in which it was advanced it would not have seemed so to many readers. Is there another solution? Magpie asks.
My own view is, No. I spent a good deal of my earlier career looking for some pou sto [as the Greeks would have said] from which to make moral and political judgments, and indeed In Defense of Anarchism is written with the expectation that such an objective standpoint could be found [although that assumption plays no role in the argument of my little book, fortunately.] My search, for a long time, took the form of a deep engagement with Kant's ethical theory. In effect, I adopted the operating premise that if anyone could find such an argument it would be Kant. When I concluded, in The Autonomy of Reason, my commentary on the Grundlegung, that Kant had failed, I drew the conclusion that the argument was not to be found.
The most heroic effort after Kant to find such a standpoint, I thought, was Rawls' A Theory of Justice, but I quickly concluded that Rawls had failed, and I demonstrated that failure in Understanding Rawls. Oddly, and completely in contradistinction to Mannheim, I found that outcome of my long search liberating, not immobilizing. I embraced the wisdom of my young student at Columbia who told me that if I wanted to know what I should do, first I must decide [not deduce, but decide] which side I am on.
For many years now I have defended the view that in this life, the most important moral and political choice one makes is the choice of one's comrades. Do you make common cause with the exploiters or with the exploited, with the oppressors or with the oppressed, with those who seek to work for the common welfare of common men and women or with those who defend the interests of the privileged elite? These are not questions to which there are objectively defensible answers. They are questions whose answers define who you are and seek to become.
This is a view I have several times expressed on this blog, and as my golden years approach [which I identify as the time when I turn ninety ;) ], I find myself more and more comfortable with it.