Postmodernism is Right Wing

Lyotard.jpg

Chris referred in his post on po/mo and history to right postmodernists such as Kojeve and Fukuyama. These figures – both enormously influential – and both central to my PhD thesis, would be worth a post in their own right. But I want to pick up on something said in comments by Chris – an analogy he made between Hayek’s work and postmodernism. While this insight is original, the general analogy between postmodernism and late capitalism is not. Fredric Jameson refers to postmodernism as the “cultural logic of late capitalism”, key po/mo theorists such as Jean Baudrillard and Jean-Francois Lyotard (pictured above) moved from Western Marxism and autonomist Marxism towards a celebration of the particular, the image, and the spectacle as postmodern thought developed, and one of the most cited po/mo texts in architecture, Learning from Las Vegas, lauded the ephemerality and irony of the built environment constantly being deconstructed and reconstructed by commerce. There’s also a very serious and related political argument, about which I hope to write more here at some point, that postmodernism is an enormous diversion and a waste of energy for the Left. Unlike, I would argue, post-structuralists such as Derrida and Foucault. But at the moment, this theme, and the very close parallel between contemporary late capitalism and postmodernism, is very well summed up in the words of veteran American political theorist Sheldon S. Wolin in Politics and Vision:

Curiously, the ideology of the market, with its idealised picture of an intricate dispersed system in which countless independent actors respond to “laws” of supply and demand that no external authority decrees, complements postmodern antipathies to “centred discourse” and centred power.

ELSEWHERE: Thanks to Chris for drawing my attention to this article on economics and po/mo on the Evatt Foundation website.

In its ideological version the perfectly free market is represented as a decentred society, coercionless, spontaneous, free of domination, only individuals making decisions. That most postmodern theorists display little interest in contemporary capitalist power-formations, except in the context of critiques of neo-colonialism, is of less significance than the congruence of uncollapsed capitalism and postmodernism…

The vocabulary of postmodernism, and its antipathies towards essentialism, centred discourse, foundationalism, and historical narrative, has served to disable its theorists from confronting the basic characteristics of contemporary power-formations whose precise characteristics are to be: centralised yet quick to react, essentially economic, founded on corporate capital, global, and best understood in terms of developments over time. The cascades of “critical theory” and their postures of revolt, and the appetite for theoretical novelty, function as support rather than opposition. Hailed as expressions of originality and intellectual freedom, they work to legitimate forms of power that thrive/depend on producing accelerated rates of change that leave opposition outdated before its case is mustered. A system that cannot conceive stopping and dreads a slowdown has developed its cultural complement in a postmodern sensibility that adores novelty, dreads boredom, and far from operating as a “fetter” on capitalism, encourages its rhythms.

About Mark Bahnisch

Mark Bahnisch is a sociologist and is the founder of this blog. He has an undergraduate degree in history and politics from UQ, and postgraduate qualifications in sociology, industrial relations and political economy from Griffith and QUT. He has recently been awarded his PhD through the Humanities Program at QUT. Mark's full bio is on this page.
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cs
cs
2021 years ago

Good quote Mark: “congruence” is the right word, I feel – “mutually reinforcing congruities”. As I’ve explained, I first got onto this in my study of water, and I’ve been following it remotely ever since. The key congruity is the subjective theory of value, which always takes you toward the extremist Austrians.

One of the funny things is that po-mos usually know bugger all about economics. Yet if you read their stuff closely, you can find them admitting the congruencies, unselfconsciously. You can find this, for example, in Anna Yeatman’s stuff (which I have an enormous amount of time for, I should add), and also McKenzie Wark’s (which I have less time for, to put it mildly).

Here is another paper, which I chased up for Evatt also following the congruities (I posted this, so notice my lead-in):
http://evatt.org.au/news/48.html

Of course, the tip off is how rampant po-mo has run through commercial popular culture. In the upshot, I feel the argument about po-mo in schools etc is, like so much else these days, simplistically and misleadingly framed as left vs right. It is best characterised as between true (old style, now arch.) conservatives and liberals (in the proper sense of the word), not social democrats. If Kevin D really wanted to get onto his enemies, he would be attacking Paul Kelly and the CIS!

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
2021 years ago

Let me do a Rafe here. Popper too was very anti-essentialist in his philosophy, anti-foundatilist and anti-justificationist where justificiationism can be defined as the view that knowledge can be defined as ‘justified true belief’. His problem-centred approach to philosophy can ultimately be regarded as a form of pragmatism and taking Popperian epistemology seriously means living in a constant state of contingency. Max More (who incidentally is an extropian libertarian) is one of the few philosophers to trace where this approach leads:

http://www.maxmore.com/pcr.htm:

‘Pancritical rationalism, uniquely among epistemologies8, requires no authorities. Look at the questions posed by the various epistemological schools. As Bartley notes, they ask “Questions like: How do you know? How do you justify your beliefs? With what do you guarantee your opinions? all beg authoritarian answers whether those answers be: the Bible, the leader, the social class, the nation, the fortuneteller, the Word of God, the intellect, or sense experience.” [110] Bartley makes an interesting parallel with political philosophy in which the traditional question has been: “Who should rule?” Or: “What is the supreme political authority?” Despite many political philosophers having been motivated by a desire to overcome authorities, the form of the traditional question has molded thinking so that one authority (such as a monarch) is merely replaced with another (such as elected representatives). Similarly, supposedly anti-authoritarian revolutions in epistemology have succeeded only in replacing old authorities (such as intellectual intuition) with new authorities (such as incorrigible sense data).9

PCR shares the comprehensive aims of panrationalism, seeing the scope of reason as unlimited and, with critical rationalism, rejects the demand for rational proofs of our rational standards. Pancritical rationalism goes further in that it also abandons “the demand that everything else except the standards be proved or justified by appealing to the authority of the standards, or by some other means. Nothing gets justified…everything get criticized.” [Bartley, 112] Instead of replacing philosophical justification with mere description of existing rational standards, PCR urges the philosophical criticism of standards as the proper task of the rationalist philosopher. Instead of proposing infallible intellectual authorities, we can “build a philosophical program for counteracting intellectual error.” [112-13] A little later I’ll examine what such a program might involve.

When PCR replaces authoritarian justification with unbounded criticism, holding all positions to be criticizable, it means (in Bartley’s words): “(1) it is not necessary, in criticism, in order to avoid infinite regress, to declare a dogma that could not be criticized (since it was unjustifiable); (2) it is not necessary to mark off a special class of statements, the justifiers, which did the justifying and criticizing but was not open to criticism; (3) there is not a point in all argument, the terms, which is exempted from criticism; (4) the criticizers the statements in terms of which criticism is conducted are themselves open to review.”

I can definitely see affinities between this approach and postmodernism. And since I believe Hayek (it is implicit in his view of the market as another knowledge filtering processs) was heavily influenced by Popper this completes the circle.

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
2021 years ago

Incidentally your post reminded me of this article
http://www.boston.com/news/globe/ideas/articles/2004/01/11/friedrich_the_great/

Because he emphasized the pluralism of values, the limits of knowledge, and the totalitarian side of “rationalist” (or, as he would put it, “scientistic”) control, some have claimed Hayek as a precursor to postmodernism. Indeed, toward the end of his life, postmodernist philosopher Michel Foucault gave lectures on Hayek’s work.

Nick Gillespie, editor-in-chief of the libertarian magazine Reason, says that in a broad sense Hayek anticipated many postmodern critiques. “Hayekian liberalism and postmodernism alike are not interested in total knowledge, or in the total institutions necessary to maintain such a vision,” says Gillespie, who holds a doctorate in literary studies. “For Hayek, the very essence of liberalism properly understood is that it replaces the ideal of social uniformity with one of competing difference.” That’s why Foucault, though no Hayekian liberal, “recognized that Hayek’s formulation of a private sphere was a meaningful hedge against the worst excesses of state power.”

Unlike postmodernists, Hayek never rejected the idea of scientific knowledge. But in confronting the advocates of centralized economies, Hayek did take pains to distinguish between science and pseudoscience.

Andrew Norton
Andrew Norton
2021 years ago

As Jason suggests, the link between Hayek and postmodernism is not original. I’d want to double-check, but I think John Gray made it in the 1980s. But in any case it has been made more than once before.

cs
cs
2021 years ago

Interesting Jason, and I suspect you’re right, at least by inference, Andrew, as Gray based his Hayek thesis on “The Sensory Order” (‘we cannot know the world as it is’).

To clarify my spectrum point, I wasn’t debunking Mark’s headline. A traditional conservative will see the debate as being against the po-mo left, whereas a traditional social democrat will see it as being against the po-mo right. Idealogues apart, any full reading, I think, will come out with a mixed po-mo balance sheet.

Mark Bahnisch
2021 years ago

Chris, my headline was a tad po/mo – ironic, playful and provocative. Lyotard of course became a traditional French left intellectual in his personal political commitments, while Baudrillard is hard to pinpoint. There’s a good article in the latest New Left Review by Perry Anderson, incidentally, which looks at the rightward drift of thinkers such as Rawls and Habermas. The effects of po/mo are, I’d argue, congruent with market capitalism and for Wolin (the last couple of chapters of his book are worth reading – much new material added to the 1960 classic), the analogy is with the decentred values of the liberal private sphere as well. Po/mo really is an effect of the present historical conjuncture.

The retreat from radicalism embodied in po/mo post-1968 has also been tracked in numerous books. The book co-authored by Luc Ferry (recently Chirac’s education minister) is usually cited, but it’s problematic and the best in my view are Peter Starr’s “Logics of Failed Revolt: French Theory after May 68” and Kristin Ross’ excellent “May 68 and Its Aftereffects”.

The point argued very strongly (and I think correctly) by Martha Nussbaum in the article to which I linked that po/mo in the academy is quietist politically and celebrates symbolic resistance (while happily – the resistance being in the form of academic papers – advancing people’s careers) is also to the point. The “star system” in academia – and the faddism – and unending search for a new and exciting French theorist – is another symptom.
The vulgar form of postmodernism, if you like, can be found in some forms of cultural studies which attempt to celebrate “resistance” in popular culture and end up as thinly disguised adulation for reality tv, for instance.

Jason, it’s true that Foucault lectured on Hayek and what he described as “Ordo-Liberalism”. The characterisation of his views in the article you’ve cited misses the mark, though, IMO. You can chase up a discussion of these lectures in the journal ‘Economy and Society’ – I don’t have time to track down the reference – but I think around 2000. I’ll be sorting through a few papers in the next few days and if it turns up in my pile of photocopied journal articles, I’ll let you know. The context was Foucault’s critique of neo-liberal governmentality. Since I don’t think Foucault was a postmodernist, and nor was he discussing po/mo theory in these lectures, but rather the influence of Hayek on late modern governmental strategies, I don’t see that this invalidates the originality of Chris’ point.

cs
cs
2021 years ago

“Po/mo really is an effect of the present historical conjuncture.”

Yes, and I think we can trace the origins back to the 1870s and the great marginalist debates, which divide off the classical from the neoclassical period, yet it was only with the turn to the right in the 1970s that the full po-mo moment came into play, as marginalism invaded government and the firm … and proceded to take over the world … err, globe!

Michael Warby
2021 years ago

“Late capitalism” is one of my favourite contemporary academic/intellectual wank terms. We have no idea whether global capitalism will or won’t be going strong a 1,000 years from now. The ever-sharpening-crisis-of-capitalism was a dubious notion when Marx and Engels propounded it in 1848, it is awfully tired now socialism has been and gone. “Late capitalism” is pious pretension parading as analysis. (“See, I know where history is heading, really I do, aren’t I clever?”)

And surely, I assume Wolin addresses it hence the phrase (I hope meant ironically) ‘uncollapsed capitalism’, it is precisely the collapse of the socialist project which has made post-modernism both indifferent to capitalism and attractive in itself?

Mark Bahnisch
2021 years ago

Michael, true, but I don’t know that “late capitalism” has the overtones that you imply – it’s really just another way of pointing to significant changes in capitalism (ie the growth of multinationals, globalisation of production etc.) People like Wallerstein think that capitalism is on the way out in the next fifty years (and he has some arguments about the limits to growth and financial crises which are worth engaging with rather than dismissing) but obviously no one knows.

Wolin argues that Marx’ predictions were somewhat inverted – the “working class” disappeared (but not into the universal class of a Communist utopia, just disappeared as a class with the erosion of collectivism, trade unionism and the shift away from secure blue collar jobs), and capitalism proved able to continue its dynamism. So, yes “uncollapsed Capitalism” as compared to the demise of “actually existing socialism”. Wolin points out though, how ironic the fact that in the capitalist West we reduce everything to the economy and economic causes and logics is. Wolin is no Marxist. He characterises his position as a “radical democrat” which is a good thing IMO.

Rafe
2021 years ago

I want to dissociate or disaggregate myself from Jason Soon. I mean that Jason Soon is a seraparate entity, a different person (perhaps an autonomous site of cultural creation or a body occupying a different spatio-temporal location in four dimensional space) and not one of the numerous pen names that I employ for trolling and spamming blogs and internet discussion groups.
On a less (or is it more) important point, it will really help to stop talking left/right because it is literally meaningless to describe a person as rightwing. They could be a libertarian, a classical liberal, a religious fundamentalist or a totalitarian neo-conservative. The important question is, are they promoting policies that make for freedom, prosperity and peace? That is to say, in a nutshell, free trade under the rule of law. So, which of the pomos are in favour of free trade under the rule of law, and which are not?

Mark Bahnisch
2021 years ago

Rafe, the answer is Hayek.

But my concern in the post is with the political effects of po/mo on the Left (which I think you concede exists, even though in very po/mo fashion you want to decentre the Right – an easy option when it’s triumphant generally).

James Farrell
James Farrell
2021 years ago

This quote from Wolin exhibits a kind of woolly reasoning that I find exasperating.

What libertarians and postmodernists have in common, I gather, is that both schools have their blind spots with respect to certain forms of centralised power and coercion, despite their professed concern with freedom. But beyond this his point is not very clear at all.

In the case of libertarians the argument is pretty straightforward whether you agree with it or not. Libertarians on both the left and the right oppose centralised power, and espouse decentralised decision making and individual freedom. However, left wing libertarians tend to think that the Hayek-Friedman-type libertarians are disproportionately fixated with the State as an impediment to these aspirations. In consequence they underplay class and corporate power. The deficiency in the analysis arises from a simplistic view of property rights and excessive faith in the ability of competition to create choice, among other things.

What Wolin is accusing postmodernists of, however, is far less clear. He says that ‘antipathies towards essentialism [etc], ha[ve] served to disable its theorists from confronting the basic characteristics of contemporary power-formations…’ The antipathies referred to are obvious enough. It’s also true that your average self-consciously post-modernist cultural critic is a pretty inept political economist. But what exactly is the connection between these two characteristics? There seem to be two aspects to it.

The first is that you can’t be an empirical relativist and insist on certain truths at the same time; or be a moral relativist and insist on certain rights. But I don’t think this banal observation would shock your average cultural critic too much. There are lots of ways to be a rebel, and most postmodernists, like their modernist predecessors, are more interested in mocking bourgeois cultural values than pursuing economic justice.

The second is that if you follow every intellectual fashion you’ll never focus on anything long enough to develop an effective critique, and this benefits the status quo. I’m sure that’s true, but if you’re a nihilst why would you care?

In any case none of these shortcomings of postmodernism applies to Hayek and libertarians. The whole thing is just a tedious attempt to smear both schools by association. Postmodernism will go away in due course like hipster skirts. Ignore it. Libertarian political philosophy is a formidable doctrine that won’t go away, and can only be combatted through serious engagement

yellowvinyl
yellowvinyl
2021 years ago

James, I think yr conflating Wolin’s point with Chris’ point. Wolin’s not talking about libertarians. what he’s saying is that po/mo reflects trends in capitalism – a desire for the latest thing, a celebration of (limited and constrained) diversity and choice, lionising of celebrity, and an undermining of foundational values that Weber also saw as the consequence of markets. he also sees it as unhelpful, as Mark said, because it blinds the Left to what’s really going on in society.

after all, though there are lots of particularistic groups that po/mo celebrates in its feminist, queer and multicultural incarnations, asserting that there’s no ontological centrality of class (which is true but not in the way that po/mo argues) leads po/mo thinkers to be totally blind to the fact that in this society right now at this time most oppression, inequality and domination stems from the market and its emancipation from social democratic constraint.

so to the degree that po/mo is anti-Marxist, it’s also anti-social democratic and indeed anti-political. why worry about people in Macquarie Fields when you can have fun parodying hip tv shows in yr ivory tower and have a nice chardy afterwards?

Wolin argues that liberalism collapses politics into economics and ethics (which is also the classic conservative argument made by Schmitt) and that po/mo does the same.

yr other points about libertarianism (which is not Wolin’s or I think Mark’s target) ought to be addressed to Chris. Wolin’s (and Mark’s) argument doesn’t stand or fall on whether you think Hayek is po/mo – I think he was probably pulling Rafe’s leg in his comment above :)

I suspect Rafe has thrown this thread off its actual point with his new inquisition :)

yellowvinyl
yellowvinyl
2021 years ago

that should read –

“po/mo is complicit in the same”.

I’d encourage ppl to read the Nussbaum article. there’s a similar trend in feminist theory where questions which ought to be political are treated as ethical. we also get concern with “business ethics” (ie Enron etc) when the real problem is concentration of economic power, which is a political issue.

Wolin makes the point that it’s only been recently that we’ve come again to see, in Smithian fashion, the economy as a domain best not tinkered with and whose presuppositions are not open to political debate. he instances the post-war British Labour government and the Swedish model as examples that this wasn’t always so.

ps – I’m a Wolin admirer too!

James Farrell
James Farrell
2021 years ago

Yellowvinyl, the quote does begin:

‘In its ideological version the perfectly free market is represented as a decentred society, coercionless, spontaneous, free of domination, only individuals making decisions…

Unless Mark was quoting Wolin totally out of context, how can you say he’s not talking about libertarians?

I haven’t read enough of the man’s writing to judge him. But I’m put off by his willing adoption of postmodernist jargon. It seems to me that if you think the stuff makes sense you can express it in plain English; and if not, deride it without mercy.

Rafe
2021 years ago

Hello yellow, can you explain how free markets cause oppression and domination?

Mark Bahnisch
2021 years ago

James, I think Wolin is talking about neo-liberalism. What is that apart from the aggregation of individual decisions through markets rather than their “distortion” through government planning? In fact, it’s liberalism pure and simple. The issue of the boundaries between liberalism and libertarianism is a separate one, IMO.

It doesn’t seem to me that he writes in po/mo jargon. This, it seems to me, is a well written and clear sentence, for instance:

“The cascades of “critical theory” and their postures of revolt, and the appetite for theoretical novelty, function as support rather than opposition.”

No doubt rhetorically he’s adopting the language of postmodern theory in the first sentence in order to bring out what he sees as parallels.

I’m inclined largely to agree with yellowvinyl. The issue to me is not parallels between Hayek and po/mo (though that’s interesting but as I’m under-read in Hayek, I’ll leave it to Chris) but why po/mo is a bad thing for the Left, and why it came along at the particular time it did.

I say “largely” agree in order to protect myself from a Rafean inquisition so as to occlude the points of disagreement, since I’ve had lunch and am off back to work! :)

I don’t know if you have access through UWS to ‘Theory & Event’, but if you do, this short article by Wolin might be worth a look.

http://muse.jhu.edu/cgi-bin/access.cgi?uri=/journals/theory_and_event/v005/5.4wolin.html&session=40122322

Reading this excerpt, I hardly see his writing as turgid or jargonistic:

“The phrase most frequently encountered these days in newspapers, on television, radio, and the Internet is “new world.” Unlike the world-creation described in the Book of Genesis where the Lord was said to have created the wor1d in six days and to have been so exhausted by his labors that he rested on the seventh; and unlike the uncertainty surrounding the exact date of that achievement we are assured for a fact that our new world came into being on September 11, 2001 at exactly 8:22 AM. This virtually unanimous declaration about the newness of the world follows only months after the turn into the third millennium when the celebrants were convinced that that date marked a new era, one different from what had gone before. But if that new world was a cause for celebration and welcoming, the latest new world seems shrouded in uncertainty and, above all, fear. The contrasting worlds seem all the more striking when we recall that as “the first new nation” our beginnings took place not in “a” new world but in “the” New World. Is it that we Americans once blessed as the children of the new have now been cursed by it?”

Mark Bahnisch
2021 years ago

Jason

Here’s the reference to the Foucalt material on Hayek and some commentary from the American political philosopher, Wendy Brown:

“Thomas Lemke, ‘The birth of bio-politics’: Michel Foucault’s lecture at the College de France on neo-liberal Governmentality,” Economy and Society 30:2 (May 2001) 190-207. Lemke and Foucault emphasize not only the continuities but the differences between the German Ordo-liberals and the neo-liberalism of the Chicago School. However, I will not be attending to these differences as I consider the implications of neo-liberal governmentality. For readers who are interested, the most significant difference appears to be in the degree of support for the market each judges to be required by political regulations and social interventions. Both center the market but “the Ordo-liberals…pursued the idea of governing society in the name of the economy [while] the U.S. neo-liberals attempt to re-define the social [and political] sphere as a form of the economic domain.” (Lemke, 197-198) Thus, the former regard the economy as requiring political intervention and determining its nature, while the latter recast the economic as defining the entire sphere of human action and institutions, from individual behavior to government.”

Rex
Rex
2021 years ago

Mark, you might care to comment on whether postmodernism is bullshit! (see link)

http://www.slate.com/id/2114268/#ContinueArticle

Mark Bahnisch
2021 years ago

Rex, the article won’t load for me for some reason. I wouldn’t go as far as saying bullshit, as I think that some of the epistemological challenges are worthwhile (and dare I say it there’s some value to textual analyses of cultural products), but I am not a postmodernist and am little convinced by its philosophical or political premises, as I’ve said.

dk.au
dk.au
2021 years ago

“I want to dissociate or disaggregate myself from Jason Soon”

In a comment, Rafe? Tarski would be turning in his grave!

James Farrell
James Farrell
2021 years ago

Mark

I object to the recyling of ‘centred discourse’, but I admit there are not too many other instances of jargon. It’s not good writing, though. The sentence construction and punctuation is awkward; there are several mixed mataphors; and in general it just lacks concreteness. But writing is very much a matter of taste. Some people probably thrill to phrases like ‘encourages its rhythms’, while others gag on them.

But I should give the guy a chance, so thanks very much for the reference. I’ll track it down and post my thoughts one day on the Graveyard thread.

You may not be that interested in the ‘parallels between Pomo and libertarianism, but your post, and the Wolin passage, did sort of seem to be about that. So, one last word about that…

It seems a plausible hypothesis that rapid institutional change is an instrument of power. Certainly three organisational restructures in seven years have left us feeling pretty powerless at my workplace. I’d be keen to read what some serious organisation theorist has to say about how that works, maybe by analogy with some rapidly mutating virus.

It may also be coincidentally true that postmodernism focuses on ephemera, and even that its theory, or what passes for theory, mutates rapidly. But this just reflects its underlying hollowness and banality: there is nothing in the ‘analysis’ that actively legitimates power structures. Libertarian and neoliberal ideology, on the other hand, play a powerful positive role in legitimising antidemocratic and inegalitarian tendencies. Its proponents don’t ‘posture’: they have firm convictions and profound arguments.

Michael Warby
2021 years ago

Mark, since capitalism is well on its rise in the C12th, indeed trying to find a time when England was not, in important sense, ‘capitalist’ seems to defeat us, I am very sceptical about capitalism running out of puff.

I think you can make a good case were are in the early stages of global capitalism, since the capitalist mode of production still has a long way to go to genuinely cover the globe. There is a lot of faux capitalism around — Latin America, Islam, Africa. Hernando de Soto’s quip “capitalism is a good idea and Latin America should try it some time” has a lot force and not only for Latin America.

I am not sure anyone really reduces everything to economic logics. It seems to me that economic efficiency is, for example, something people value for instrumental reasons. And you cannot really understand Howard’s political success unless you see the appeal of his social/cultural politics. He is the only Coalition Leader in power, because he is the only one who successfully plays such politics. The others try and be “beaut bookkeepers” and it doesn’t get them far enough.

I am also extremely unconvinced about arguments concerning increased economic insecurity. Average job duration has shifted very little and poll reports of job retention confidence simply shift with unemployment changes. People do not generally display the saving behaviour one would associate with high levels of insecurity.

Nor do I believe the “working class” has disappeared. It has just changed from intelligentsia mascot to intelligentsia whipping boy. It was a major moment in social history when “proletarians” became “rednecks”. A PoMo moment, one could say.

Mark Bahnisch
2021 years ago

James, I agree writing is a matter of taste. The po/mo parallel is only a small part of Wolin’s argument and I find him a persuasive writer on political theory and politics more generally.

Michael, there’s actually a huge historical debate over the timing and emergence of capitalism in England. I tend to agree with you as I follow Braudel on this not Marx.

I’d agree that capitalism has a way to go before it reaches its global limits – but this is also Wallerstein (and the geographer David Harvey)’s argument – there are limits which might be reached in 50 years or so when there are no remaining populations or territories to be incorporated into a market economy. That obviously has implications both for demand and for low-wage labour. Then there are issues about non-renewable resources.

I won’t debate you point by point because I’m too tired but I disagree with you on job security. The availability of credit and non-wage income which can temporalily stabilise consumption are important in this context. Just ask the reserve bank.

Howard plays the culture card well, but it was always thus. To a degree there has been a shift from neo-liberalism to neo-conservatism but the perception of formerly public goods as products to be consumed (ie education, health) and the associated market logics continues – not to mention the disappearance of bureaucratic/hierarchical forms of organisation in favour of network/contractual forms even within large organisations (eg cost centres, purchaser/provider splits etc).

I for one don’t run around calling people rednecks. But the working class – in the sense of a collectivist unionised culture – is gone. Eric Hobsbawm noticed its disappearance in 78. All Howard’s entrepreneurial rhetoric and earlier Kennett’s is premised on its disappearance – and its disappearance has had a big impact on social democratic parties of the Left across nations.

Andrew Norton
Andrew Norton
2021 years ago

No deep reflections on yesterday’s discussion, but I’ll withdraw my suggestion that Gray linked Hayek and postmodernism. On a quick look through his books last night I found reference to liberal conservative postmodernism, but not in specific reference to Hayek. I did find discussion of Hayek and postmodernism in an academic article by someone else, in 1991.

Glen Fuller
2021 years ago

“po/mo in the academy is quietist politically and celebrates symbolic resistance (while happily – the resistance being in the form of academic papers – advancing people’s careers) is also to the point.”

I have laboured over this problem for quite a while. How to be successful in the academy without turning into some wanker?

I wonder if it is possible for most people to agree on the fact that there is much injustice in the world and such injustice needs to be addressed? And maybe, pushing it, that such injustice is more important than your own comfort?

My political position is derived from (primarily a belief or at most an extrapolation from a state of affairs) that some members of society profit from this injustice and they do not want the injustice to go away or be properly addressed because then they will lose their profit. It seems to me that a lot of the postmodernist theory derived from attempts to think through how to address the injustice in the world and without generating further injustice. Ultimately, though, I think this is impossible.

Mark Bahnisch
2021 years ago

I think that’s right Glen – in terms of the impulse that a majority of people who follow po/mo have. But the difficulty, as Martha Nussbaum argues in the article I’ve linked to – is the absence of any normative standards of evaluation that’s inherent in po/mo. But I won’t go over her argument again, just draw attention to it.

Michael Warby
2021 years ago

Mark, my cynical take on the debate on the emergency of capitalism is that it is mainly about trying to keep St Karl afloat in some sense.

Pirenne and MacFarlane are my most recent readings on the subject, but, short of quibbling over terminology, I don’t think there is a lot of doubt really that capitalist elements of the medieval economy go back to at least the C12th.

People perennially come up with arguments that ‘capitalism is going to run out of puff because …’ Their track record is demonstrably awful. Typically, because they don’t actually understand the system they are describing. As capitalism expands, demand increases — this hardly seems a limiting factor. ‘Low wage’ is actually ‘lower wage’ and the notion that capitalism ‘needs’ a low wage frontier seems to me clearly false.

The issue on resources is far too big for this post. Though I will observe that the concept of resources is a very moveable feast.

Increased job insecurity is far more stated than demonstrated. Capitalism has always been dynamic. Again my cynical take is that previously privileged areas (public servants, academics, journalists) are now suffering pressures which were always normal in the rest of the economy and so, suddenly, the cry is ‘insecurity!’. Shifts in modes of employment do not, of themselves, imply increased job insecurity, being mostly a response to the increasing regulatory and other burden the state has put on permanent full-time employment.

Yes, a particular construction of the working class the intelligentsia found congenial has eroded. The working class is still there, though. They are just being inconvenient and so not good mascots. Since the Left’s cultural politics are largely driven by a desperate need to feel superior to (in particular) the working class, it is hardly surprising the Howard, Kennett et al are able to garner votes there.

Mark Bahnisch
2021 years ago

Michael, I think you’ve misunderstood me. I agree that capitalism probably began in England (though if we go with Braudel’s definition, that’s not the only instance) in the 12C.

Maybe one day I’ll post on Wallerstein but the two ways that capitalism is reproducing itself at the moment are spatial and through speeding up the circuit of capital (to use Marxian economic terms for a second). Both have inherent limits, which have not yet been reached. You can accept this without accepting a lot of what was awry in Marx’ analysis of capital – ie the labour theory of value, the law of the tendency of falling profits, etc.

It’s true that job insecurity is more commented on now because it now affects the middle class. The mass of sociological evidence is against your contention. I suspect what you’re doing is picking a T1 that suits your argument. What you need to do is compare the current state of the labour market with its state in the period of the “long boom” – ie 1948-1973.

Your point on the working class seems to me to be polemic and nothing else. It’s an empirical fact that there is no longer a collectivised unionised and solidaristic working class to any great degree. Your comments about alleged left wing disdain for the working class are just a cheap shot. You’d have to argue this at much greater length to convince me. I guess because of your admitted po/mo ideology you’re being a nominalist and the working class can be called into being by your performative statement :)

Glen Fuller
2021 years ago

Mark,

The only test or evaluation of pomo theory worth its salt (testing the testers;) is if it actually does any good in the world. It could be the smallest ‘good’. Otherwise, who gives a shit? lol! Discourse becomes esoteric fairytales that people tell each other to feel comfortable with themselves and the current state of affairs.

Critiquing ‘theory’ on stylistic grounds is a waste of time. Critiquing ‘theory’ because of its style (rather than the difficulty of thought, which is a different problem) hampers the communication of a good idea is a worthwhile critique. The problem is when people who do not much like some of the good ideas of ‘pomo’ refuse to engage with it properly, instead they forward a rather silly critique on abuses of ‘style’ itself as the Nussbaum article attempts to do. She is not alone. The stupidity of ‘Sokal’ style critiques strategically refuses to engage with the thought. I wonder how comfortable Sokal would be with the ‘mathematics’ turn in anglo Continental Philosophy. For a taste:

http://blog.urbanomic.com/dread/archives/2005/03/icy_with_desuet.html

Mark Bahnisch
2021 years ago

I think, Glen, that your analogy between Sokal and Nussbaum is an unfair one. I don’t support Sokal’s shenanigans, but Nussbaum makes a cogent argument that Butler’s ideas are either incoherent or trite behind the confusing expression of them. It seems to me that the challenges Nussbaum makes to Butler are ones she needs to meet.

Nussbaum would argue that the work that Butler’s texts have done in the world is to encourage quietism and defeatism. If you think her ideas have made a difference, it seems to me that the terms of your own argument require you to specify what that is.

Michael Warby
2021 years ago

Mark, people claim there is a mass of sociological evidence of increased job insecurity, but the claims I have seen are typically very short on evidence (plenty of misreading of trends, but little evidence).

I do not doubt that job security was greater in the 1948-1973 boom. Nor do I disagree that higher levels of unemployment imply increased job insecurity. What I dispute is the claim that there is increased job insecurity in, say, 2005 to 1995 to 1985 to 1975. That is, this side of the oil-shock/productivity crunch, there has been a pattern of increasing job insecurity.

Again, the argument about (contemporary) Left cultural politics is rather a big one, but one listens to outpourings about how racist Australians are, how racist antipathy to immigration automatically is, etc, the whole opinion-bigotry (if you dissent you’re evil), the persecuting hysteria over Hanson, etc and it is perfectly clear that strong status claims are being made which the working class largely sits on the other side of. An emerging mass intelligentsia is clearly going to have status/identity issues and the obvious form of identity to cling to is a sense of moral and intellectual superiority. A process increased by the fact that academe in particular has become the core of a transnational knowledge class that assets its own sense of identity by asserting itself against the surrounding society.

BTW, nowhere did I state or imply that my own belief system is in any sense PoMo.

And I continue to disagree with your implied claim that a working class cannot exist unless it is collectivist, solidaristic, etc. Yes, that particular social form is clearly in decline. That doesn’t mean we don’t have a working class anymore.

For example, in terms of popular support for migration, John Winston has been by far the most successful PM in the last 30 years — belief that immigration is ‘too high’ has, according to the AES, collapsed from about 65% to about 35% of those polled. That 35% is disproportionately resident working class, because they are the group who clearly tend to be losers from mass migration (since it puts downward pressure on wages, upward pressure on the value of capital — including, not coincidentally, intellectual capital — and creates crowding issues they tend to be least able to ameliorate). Now, since it is an article of contemporary progressivist faith that being against migration is a sign of being evil, this is fairly clearly asserting higher status over the working class.

Similarly, the working class tend to be strong on one set of rules for everyone. It is an article of progressivist faith that applying this to indigenous issues is ‘racist’ (the term I believe is ‘egalitarian racism’). And so on.

Mark Bahnisch
2021 years ago

“BTW, nowhere did I state or imply that my own belief system is in any sense PoMo.”

You wrote:

“Nor do I believe the “working class” has disappeared. It has just changed from intelligentsia mascot to intelligentsia whipping boy. It was a major moment in social history when “proletarians” became “rednecks”. A PoMo moment, one could say.”

My comment was a joke, Michael!

Michael Warby
2021 years ago

Mark

Ah, irony is always a risk in written discourse.

Also, since it has become drearily normal for progressivists to misrepresent the views of dissenters — to the extent I believe many of them have simply lost the ability to read dissent accurately — I am perhaps over-sensitive on the subject.