From edition

For Liberalism & Thinking Politically Again: Reflections Inspired by Michael Bérubé’s "The Left at War"

Finally, a book on and from the left that constitutes, as a certain sort of Englishman might say, a “proper” bit of thinking! Or, as a certain sort of lawyer might say, an “actionable” analysis and argument, that is, a book which can serve as a basis for action—and thinking politically again. In addition to making the case for a re-politicized cultural studies that does a lot more than endlessly produce ludic commentaries on banal cultural phenomena, Michael Bérubé’s The Left as War gives us the opportunity to seriously reflect on our world. Though Bérubé claims the mantle of a democratic socialist, I want to argue that his analysis and argument are more properly Marxist, in contrast to those who more ostentatiously inhabit that category, like Slavoj Žižek and Alain Badiou, whose non-political and actually non-Marxist thought I will briefly consider below. Bérubé’s work is political, and Marxist, because it seeks to engender a better world on the basis of what is immanent in this one, and not on the basis of its infantile rejection. His book is political in daring us to give up the certainty that so many of us on the left feel that we have it all figured out, if not the details, then the broad outlines. To wit, most of us, though fully linked in to all the benefits derived from the horrible past—air travel, telecommunications, computer technologies—nonetheless purport to be the arch enemy of the present, the capitalist, neoimperialist, patriarchal, heteronormative, liberal democratic present. What enables our certainty is our conviction that we know who the bad guys are—and they are, when all is said and done, us—and so by a simple if not very rigorous logic we know who the good guys are—anyone who is against us.

But Bérubé’s book subverts the simplistic logic according to which the enemy of my enemy is friend, a logic which the left has used to embrace genocidal strongmen and theocratic fundamentalists opposed by Western culture and power. It helps us to understand that if our leaders want to put a stop to these trigger- and bomb-happy murderers then maybe, instead of jumping to their defense, instead of painting such scenarios as further instances of cynical imperial aggression, we might want to rethink our relationship to our leaders. It’s not a matter of becoming their unconditional cheerleaders, but one of understanding that though we might naively think that the enemy of our enemy (our government, our capitalist class) is our friend, this new “friend” does not distinguish as we do, between us—private, more or less innocent bystanders—and our government and capitalist class. No matter how much we might think we can be friends, they (and by they I mean Islamist theocrats) just want to kill us. Really. Bérubé’s book is, then, audacious enough to remind us that perhaps we’re not the bad guys, and that therefore, those who oppose us might not necessarily be the good guys. Such an argument demands that we rethink what we thought we knew, that we reimagine how the world is and how it might be; it demands that instead of hewing to the rhetorical flourishes of undeniably gifted proseurs,[1] we—again—start thinking politically.

The Forever War

Bérubé’s title references not only the Left in a time of war, but also the Left at war with itself. He reports on how the Left, in producing its responses to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, has once more rendered itself ineffectual, if not wholly irrelevant. Ineffectual and possibly irrelevant because the most noted—if not the  most notable—left response to the war was one which implicitly and explicitly defended the choice of radical Islam to  blow up Western cities, by invoking the logic of the-enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend. The supporters of this perspective were not an insignificant number: they were enough to convince anyone—everyone?—else who was paying attention that the left was off its rocker, so to speak. Once more, because, though Bérubé doesn’t take up the point, the left has always been at war with itself, whether in times of peace or of violent conflict: social democrats, communists, anarchists, socialists, Trotksyists, feminists, middle-class peace activists and so on—all groupable as belonging to some sort of left—have always taken pains to demarcate their differences from one another and to paint what one would imagine to be their potential, even natural, allies as actually being agents of reaction, the bourgeoisie, the patriarchy and/or imperialism—in short, stooges of counter-revolution.

The first of the fundamental two Left factions that Bérubé sees as being at war with each other is what he calls the Manichean left, for whom “there are [only] two forces in the world, those of good and evil” (7), and since we are—or at least our government is—evil, anyone who opposes us, or whom we oppose is, ipso facto, good. Although not noted, there is something of an irony here in that the division by the Manichean left of the world into good and evil, is a division which those who supported the war were able to leverage and turn back on the left and on potentially deliberative observers: Yes, there are only two possible positions, ours or theirs, the good position or the evil one. Thus a situation which is quintessentially political is denuded of actual political thought, since discussion proceeds on the basis of axioms, preestablished certainties about the world.

But there is another left, a “democratic left,” to which Bérubé allies himself, which insists on thinking politically rather than axiomatically. By thinking politically I mean that it insists on the need for thought to somehow try to come to grips with the world and the people in it, rather than the reverse; it is a way of thinking that is not afraid to acknowledge the complexity of reality, that is not afraid to revise its positions in the face of emergent phenomena. In order to expand this left, in order to make it more effectual, Bérubé has written his latest book. He hopes that readers will align themselves with this left, which is a left committed to making the world (this world) a better one, based on the institutionalization of dynamics already present—if still only very incipient—in it. He’s talking about international bodies, courts, treaties, which would supersede the claims of national sovereignty. Utopian you say? Hardly. Difficult? Absolutely. But within the realm of possibility, if we get serious about politics. Regarding the wars, the discourse of this left—not Manichean—which proceeded from doubt rather than certainty, tended to be elided by observers and commentators, due to the fact that it was not strident, that it was nuanced and therefore constituted (was able to constitute itself, at least in principal), as a possible constraint on the forces rushing to war. Bérubé’s democratic left is a left that would reintroduce deliberative thinking into the situation. Would, were it not constantly silenced by the Manichean world-view that both the left and the right so uninhibitedly adopt, as if it were a virtue.

Though Bérubé writes forcefully and convincingly about the value of a certain style of cultural studies—that propounded by Stuart Hall in the 1970s, which understands culture in modern democratic societies as a terrain  of persuasion and contestation, rather than as a space of manipulation and stupification—for thinking about and understanding why some people seem so ready to support war and why others would seem to support terrorism and mass murder, what I  want to highlight here is the fantastic work he does criticizing the discourse of the Manichean left and the man whom he designates as its principal spokesperson, Noam Chomsky. This criticism allows us to re-understand and re-appreciate politics and the targets of so much Manichean vituperation, the West and liberalism.

Chomsky is an important figure to take on since his many interventions reach a considerable audience. His books are easily available in airport bookstores. And while some might argue that Chomsky’s words have always reflected an unalloyed anti-Americanism and thus a quite straightforward Manicheanism, he has been for many people and for many years the voice of a certain sort of people-based hope, a not terribly specific but nonetheless ardent proponent of the idea that normal people, if given access to a bit more knowledge, can and do make the world a better place. Indeed, when one considers Chomsky’s history it is odd that he has come to be so monomaniacal in his criticisms of the US. I imagine, for instance, that most people who browse these electronic pages are at least vaguely familiar with the debate that took place between Noam Chomsky and Michel Foucault in 1971. Those not familiar with the actual debate but acquainted with the debaters will, nonetheless, surely be able to divine the positions each staked out regarding the bone of contention: human nature and the possibility of justice.

Foucault talked of how any effective realization of “justice” would always be the realization of a certain justice, one that in one way or another extended the social relations of power—of inequality, of subordination and domination—out of which it grew, while Chomsky sought to articulate his commitment to a human nature which was striving to implement, against the vested interests of power, a universal justice, a real justice. The fact that Foucault insisted that any form of justice would always be partial, in fact privileging some over others, that the notion of a true or real or universal justice would always mask the fact that its actual instantiation merely signified that a certain array of social forces were provisionally ascendant and able to lay claim to embodying the universal, led Chomsky to dismiss Foucault as the most “amoral” person he had ever met. It is likely that Foucault left the encounter with the impression that Chomsky was quite naive about how the social—how the world—really works.

But Chomsky, interestingly, has become famous telling the public how naive it is in understanding how the world works.[2] In a sort of career-long paraphrasing of Foucault’s argument, he has told us in article after article, in book after book, in conference after conference, that those who promote freedom and democracy, popular sovereignty and international justice, are actually promoting not universal values, but their own radically circumscribed and parochial interests under the name of freedom, democracy, sovereignty and justice. The world, Chomsky tells us ever so bluntly, coheres in the form that it does as a result of the naked play of power. There is no sense in his interventions that the US, while—let’s say—wrong more often than we would like, due to the fact that the people who make important decisions are all-too-human and thus prone to be guided by their petty jealousies as much as by grand historical narratives, is also the place that has so-far best institutionalized the practice of freedom and that has best—given its heterogeneity—instantiated the idea of equality. There is little real sense in his work, in other words—despite his occasional/disposable protestations to the contrary—that the US and the West have actually created something laudable, if flawed.

But Chomsky is not alone in having tunnel vision with regard to the US and the West in general. While Bérubé does an excellent and necessary job in pointing up the shortcomings of that vision, in the limited space of what remains of this essay, I want to continue that critical exercise, directing it now at a couple of figures whose popularity, while paling compared to that of Chomsky, nonetheless affords them too the status of something like “rock stars” on the more restricted Manichean left of the academy, namely, Slavoj Žižek and Alain Badiou. While Chomsky’s political interventions are not generally the stuff of social science and humanities courses, the writings of Ž and B have been taken up across the curriculum, especially in that of cultural studies and English and Literature departments. The following criticism is pertinent, I hope, insofar as it allows me, if I may be so presumptuous, to join Bérubé in the necessary defense of liberal institutions, of the achievements of the West, and in the promotion of thinking politically again.

Changing the Coordinates?  Or Repeating Stalin?

Žižek and Badiou are the sort of people Lévy has in mind when he wrote in Left in Dark Times, “I’m convinced that the collapse of the Communist house almost everywhere has […] had the unexpected side effect of wiping out the traces of its crimes, the visible signs of its failure, allowing certain people to start dreaming once again of an unsullied Communism, uncompromised and happy.”[3] They are certainly among the most well-known among those pushing this unsullied, uncompromised, happy Communisim—as if the greater part of the twentieth century has not given ample proof that this was in the most literal sense a contradiction in terms. Žižek has written a great many books which invariably do little more than repeat the same ideas and denunciations of the West and its liberal and capitalist history and present. He famously convened a conference on Lenin, a scholarly celebration of the man who, despite his shortcomings, nonetheless “changed the coordinates of the possible”—the central Žižekian political idea—with his leadership and direction of the Bolshevik Party. And more recently he has made it his mission to rehabilitate Stalin and Mao. Badiou, for his part, has postulated something called the Communist Hypothesis as his contribution to politics today.

Žižek, like Badiou, longs for something other, something radically other, to the society that we enjoy today. Now, nobody need be blind to the real crimes and excesses of Western democracies—colonialism, for example—and of capitalism, which left to its own logics has indeed produced the destruction of environments and communities, while also providing the very services and technologies upon which these thinkers, and modern society, depend. But it is worth noting that capitalist democracy nonetheless continues to recover and renovate itself, to re-invent, in fact, its own different forms of collective organization, that while indeed imperfect, are always open to criticism, and thus novelty and thus, finally—and this is crucial—freedom.

Ignoring this reality, Ž and B refuse to provide their conceptual social, political other with significant content; they insist only that it be the absolute negation of the unalloyed horror that is Western liberal modernity. Žižek promotes, as we’ve seen, a politics of “changing the coordinates.” What this means is that he promotes any political activity that somehow creates the possibility for something unforeseen, something new to emerge. This is the sort of political thinking that saw in the Iranian revolution, and sees in the rise of Islamism, a good thing, a liberating challenge to Western liberal hegemony. But oddly enough, this would seem to be also the sort of thinking that led to US involvement in Iraq, both times. In each case, the big idea behind the invasions was that if we could just “change the coordinates,” something different, something better, would emerge. So far, not so good. And if one day Iraq does emerge as a constitutional democracy, the debate will turn on whether such a result was in fact in spite of the war, rather than because of it. We should note then that Žižek’s thought is hardly unique, is hardly progressive, and that it is not particularly leftist. If his politics of changing the coordinates is the same as that of the American Centurions, then his politics of violence—in his book Violence, a chapter is called “Divine Violence” and imagines such violence as necessary and as the way to introduce a really human society—seems to be no different from that of the murderous theocrats who dream of visiting a divine holocaust on Israel, and blowing to smithereens the West and modernity so as to refound the caliphate, despite his protestations to the contrary.[4] Is this radical, useful—progressive—thought?

In his attempt to salvage communism, Žižek asserts repeatedly that “at the origins of the [communist] regime, there was an ‘authentic’ revolutionary project”[5] and even writes of the “redemptive moment” of “‘totalitarian’ politics.”[6] For his part Badiou states, categorically, even after the twentieth century and the ongoing example of China in the twenty-first: “we know that communism is the right hypothesis.” Thus, in “The Communist Hypothesis”[7] we get a pretty well-articulated understanding of how Badiou sees the world. This is important because, obviously, how we see the world affects our thoughts and practices related to changing it. How does he see politics? He sees it in an abstract sense as “collective action, organized by certain principles, that aims to unfold the consequences of a new possibility which is currently repressed by the dominant order” (31 my emphasis). But would it not be more correct to say, facilitated by the dominant order?

The point is that it depends on how you look at things. The point is to appreciate, if I may appropriate a useful trope from Žižek, the parallax view, to see not just repression but immanence as well. This is certainly what Marx saw when he looked at capitalism, not so much what it repressed—although he never lost sight of that—but what it made possible. Badiou continues, opining that, the above formulation of politics notwithstanding, this “is not to say that the electoral-democratic system is repressive per se” (31). And we’ll thank him for that admission. Still, he goes on, the electoral-democratic system is “incorporated into a state form, that of capitalo-parliamentarianism, appropriate for the maintenance of the established order, and consequently serves a conservative function” (31). But even if it is incorporated into a capitalist, parliamentary system, and let us concede—because it is a truism—that said system is appropriate for the maintenance of the established order, it still bears pointing out that Badiou is blind—wilfully so?—to the other point of view, which allows us to appreciate that the system is not only appropriate for the maintenance of the established order, it is also appropriate for changing the established order. And indeed, the liberal democratic system is the only system which is appropriate for changing itself while allowing for continuity and stability. It serves, in other words, a good conservative function, not a reactionary one, by preventing personalities with “good” ideas from liberating themselves from institutional restraints and inaugurating hell on earth, again.[7] To dismiss institutionality as a reactionary impediment to a better world is only possible on the basis of a radically circumscribed conception—a binary, Manichean conception—of the world and the people in it.

Testing the Hypothesis

To get an idea of how circumscribed, how axiomatically binary or Manichean (non-political), Badiou’s world vision is, let’s look at how he understands the current military actions—okay, let’s call them wars—in the world today: “Our governments explain that they are waging war abroad in order to protect us from it at home” (32). Okay, so far so good. I remember hearing such arguments—and I’ll even admit that I remember not being so very convinced by them. But Badiou continues parsing the bellicose logic: “If Western troops do not hunt down the terrorists in Afghanistan or Chechnya [by the way, did I miss something? Is Chechnya the site of Western troops? Is Russia the West too?], they will come over here to organize the resentful rabble outcasts” (32 my emphasis). In his strange mind the war is not protecting us from terrorist attacks—an eminently arguable point, certainly—but from the organization of the resentful rabble outcasts!!! One wonders: do not said outcasts have sufficient organizers of one kind or another already in their own countries? And do not most of them choose to ignore said organizers? Badiou here seems to be telling us that he wants Islamists to come to the West (as if they’re not already here) and organize the resentful rabble outcasts. Obviously the homegrown and one imagines secular socialists and communists aren’t up to scratch, and so we need to import some religious, genocidal theocrats to come along and take down capitalism and the West. Is this not exemplary Manichean thinking?

Let us look now more closely at Badiou’s communist hypothesis. This hypothesis says that “the logic of class […] is not inevitable; it can be overcome” (34-35). It is interesting that Badiou chooses the term hypothesis. The scientific method insists that we test hypotheses, that we attempt to falsify them. In the present case, history itself would seem to have falsified Badiou’s hypothesis many, many times over. He gives us more detail, nonetheless:

The communist hypothesis is that a different collective organization is practicable, one that will eliminate the inequality of wealth and even the division of labour. The private appropriation of massive fortunes and their transmission by inheritance will disappear. The existence of a coercive state, separate from civil society, will no longer appear a necessity: a long process of reorganization based on a free association of producers will see it withering away. (35)

Anticipating the obvious critical response, Badiou interjects: “It is foolish to call such communist principles utopian; in the sense that I have defined them here they are intellectual patterns, always actualized in a different fashion” (35). But the way we’ve seen them be actualized—up to the present—is somewhat scary, no?

At least the way that self-defined communists have tried to actualize them should give any decent person pause. On the other hand, under liberal systems, some real movement towards social equality, through taxation on income and on inheritance, is not only thinkable but practicable. Sure, such ideas have a lot of enemies, but a lot of potential sympathizers also. And in the West, while the state can be incredibly coercive, it can also be fought, restrained in court and in the legislature—and even in the streets. Sometimes it prevails anyway, but not always. On the other hand, our association—given the number of people we’re talking about—is probably as free as it’s ever going to get. Liberal immigration policies allow many—if not all—to choose where they want to live (but yes, their being able to choose does depend on them being able to produce too—it’s not a perfectly just system). And it’s highly unlikely that there will ever be, under anything resembling desirable conditions, complete elimination of inequality of wealth and the division of labor.

Nevertheless, Badiou, to support his definition of the hypothesis, then goes on to identify the “communist invariant,” that is, “mass action [that] opposes state coercion in the name of egalitarian justice” (35). While admitting the reality of revolt throughout history, especially “since the beginnings of the state,” I ask whether it was not, more accurately, in the name of freedom or at least equally in the name of freedom, rather than only in the name of egalitarian justice. While freedom and equality need to be thought together—a point Bérubé drives home nicely throughout his book—Badiou seems to give up on freedom in favor of equality. But we’ve already seen how that goes. People can be equal and deprived of freedom. That’s a nightmare situation. But people cannot be free and not in many significant ways equal also. In other words freedom requires a good amount of formal and substantial equality, whereas wholesale substantial equality requires totalitarianism and is in fact, strictly speaking, unthinkable.

Having defined the hypothesis as our guiding idea and the invariant as our empirical history, Badiou seeks to “determine the point at which we now find ourselves in the history of the communist hypothesis” (35). He identifies a first stage from the French Revolution to the Paris Commune, and a second stage from the Bolshevik to the end of the Cultural Revolution. The first stage, while long on enthusiasm was short on organization, and so succumbed to entropy and “the foreign-backed forces of counter-revolution” (35). The second stage solved the problem of organization though the “‘iron discipline’ of the communist party” (36). But this itself turned into a problem, according to Badiou. Not because it led to the killing of more people, and more communists, truth be told, than the combined forces of fascism—and exponentially more than those killed by democratic regimes—but because eventually it proved “corrupt” and ineffective,” because it “developed into a new form of authoritarianism,” because it suffered from “internal bureaucratic inertia” (36). Ah, so that was it.

What Is (Not) to Be Done?

By now we are in the present and it is here when the real poverty of Badiou’s thinking comes to the fore. He is concerned with the “eventual opening of a new sequence of the communist hypothesis” (37), while being clear—thank heaven—that it “will not be—cannot be—the continuation of the second one. Marxism, the workers’ movement, mass democracy, Leninism, the party of the proletariat, the socialist state—all inventions of the 20th century—are not really useful to us any more…. [A]t the level of practical politics they have become unworkable” (37). Given this fact, “our task is to bring the communist hypothesis into existence by another mode, to help it emerge within new forms of political experience,” and, “We need to re-install the communist hypothesis—the proposition that the subordination of labour to the dominant class is not inevitable—within the ideological sphere” (37). There is a point to be made here, but with a little more rope it will be all the easier to hang Badiou (figuratively speaking, of course). As an example of what this re-installation might mean, Badiou offers that of “finding a point that would stand outside the temporality of the dominant order,” in “formal opposition” to it, such as, “‘There is only one world’” (37-8). He elaborates: “we must affirm the existence of the single world right from the start, as axiom and principle. The simple phrase, ‘there is only one world,’ is not an objective conclusion. It is performative: we are deciding that this is how it is for us” (38). Okay, good. Having uttered this performative statement, “it is then a question of elucidating the consequences that follow from this simple declaration” (39).

And so: “A first consequence is the recognition that all belong to the same world as myself: the African worker I see in the restaurant kitchen, the Moroccan I see digging a hole in the road, the veiled woman looking after children in a park” (39). Note that the members of Badiou’s world are those he can see. Those he can’t see are out of luck. The media—which could let him see them—have already been dismissed out of hand as a hopelessly compromised ideological state apparatus (31), even though Althusser recognized that these were in fact sites of struggle. Seeing as Badiou seems to be only concerned to include the people he can see in his world, the consequences of saying “there is only one world,” it would seem, do not include doing everything possible, up to and including air strikes, to stop genocidal fascists from killing innocent people in places you can’t see.

It would seem that said innocents are not part of Badiou’s world! In articles in Le Monde given to reflecting on the genocidal misery wrought by fascists in post-Yugoslavia, Badiou rejects intervention. Like Žižek, who for some years has been invoking Melville’s Bartleby as a political model to follow, Badiou insists that it would be best to do nothing (“La Sainte-Alliance y ses serviteurs,” Le Monde, May 20, 1999; “L’arrogance impériale dans ses oeuvres,” Le Monde, March 25, 2000. I do not read French and trust Bernard-Henri Lévy’s analysis and summary of the articles, given in Left in Dark Times, pp. 142-143).[9] “We should stay out of their business,” he insists (quoted in Lévy 143). If such are the consequences of Badiou’s performative one worldism, then count me out. And yet the consequences did not have be so. Again, it depends on how you conceive of the dominant order.

One could conceive of it as one in which countries minded their own business and let innocents beyond their borders, beyond their view, beyond their interests, suffer the whims of whatever god-awful tyrant had managed to install himself in power. One could conceive of it as an order in which the defenseless are inevitably subordinate to the dominant. Badiou’s “there is only one world” would, then, occupy a position outside that order, in formal opposition to it. The consequences would be game changing, world changing. But Badiou can’t see that. His one world is just that—his one world—in which “Nothing was more necessary than not to intervene” (quoted in Lévy, 143). Compare this to the vision outlined by Bérubé, who argues for an internationalism, a one-worldism of a sort, in which we have a duty to make good on the incipient “responsibility to protect” supra-sovereignty doctrine, which would compel able countries to come to the aid of those who are defenseless in the face of genocidal slaughter. Which one world do you want to be a part of?

We Are the World

Oddly enough for a supposedly radical anti-liberal thinker, the big consequence of his radically constrained one-worldism seems to be little more than a watered-down version of liberal multiculturalism (I say watered-down because it doesn’t, as we’ve seen, include everybody). In his one world there is no “demand that you have to be like everybody else” (39), but, rather, “an unlimited set of differences exist” (39); furthermore, each person can “invent what he is […] not through any internal rupture, but by an expansion of identity” (40). Badiou posits this as the eventual outcome of communism. But is he not in fact describing the already achieved reality of the liberal socio-political system? (Except for leaving no space for those whose difference is being literally expunged in not so far away places, of course.) Does he not describe the sort of society that his imaginary organizers of the resentful rabble outcasts would crush, given half the chance? Have they not repeatedly demonstrated as much? Badiou is so blinded by his Manichean lenses that he cannot see that the world he is after is in so many respects already here—and under attack.

Conclusion: The Liberal Hypothesis

I would then offer up, drawing on the political and intellectual arguments provided by Bérubé’s book, in response to Manichean thinking in general and to Ž and B more specifically, more pointedly, the liberal hypothesis and the freedom invariant. Why, in the face of the histories of liberal democracies (that are capitalist too), that have in fact (rather than only a hypothetical sense) given so much to the notion and the possibilities of the human, would we not, rather, double down on the liberal hypothesis? Why put it all on an idea that is only good in theory—and really, perhaps not even there, given how much we know about human pettiness (but that’s another story)—and not bet sensibly on an idea that has paid off in actual practice? Perfectly? Not at all! But given that liberalism institutionalizes the freedom to be different, the freedom to criticize, the freedom to say no, then it contains within itself the practical conditions for changing the coordinates of the possible, for inching ever closer to something better. Liberalism is the only political regime which is open to changing itself, a form which actually encourages the ongoing negation of its own content, or rather, its sublation, its aufheben, if you will.

The Manichean leftists, whether read in or beyond the academy, seem to be working within their own state of abjection, attempting to cast themselves off, attempting to un-understand themselves as citizens in vibrant democratic social systems which as yet have not solved all the problems of injustice at home and abroad. They want a perfect world, and they want it now. But somehow they claim to be materialists, Marxist revolutionaries, when in fact they are more idealist than Hegel himself. He worked it all out in his head, and on paper. Though these hypothesizers claim to be materialists, concerned with the real world and the real people in it, their contributions are written for people who do not exist, and for a world that does not exist. They resolve real problems in their minds and on paper—as if they were advertising copywriters (“Impossible is nothing” goes the Adidas sportswear commerical, when really, impossible is impossible)—then go back to enjoying all the luxuries offered to them by the very world they wish away in all their other waking moments.

Having studied the history of the modern world, having lived through the later part of the twentieth century and what has passed of the twenty-first, we know that the world is far from a utopia. But we are sure—we can be sure, based on study, based on evidence, based on thought, and rejecting half-formed fantasies whose attempted formulation in practice has proven to be horrific—that a good part of the answer, a good part of the solution, that will help make the world a better place, is liberalism, the idea that human beings have rights, that we are more important than History, that we can be and ought to be—yes, ought to be—free, and that these rights and this freedom can be protected and nurtured through institutions, institutions that we have been working on and improving for over two hundred years. Our origins harbored an authentic revolutionary project whose goals were rights, equality and freedom. Its name is liberalism. This is our patrimony and our legacy, our past, present and future—our politics, if we care to inherit them, if we care to struggle for them.


[1]I hope the reader will indulge this neologism, by which I mean to allude to prose writers (prosers) who are also poseurs, that is, not what they purport to be: political, radical, materialist.

[2]On this point and the “antipolitical” nature of Chomsky’s rhetoric and thought in general, see Gabriel Brahm: “Understanding Noam Chomsky: a Reconsideration,” Critical Studies in Media Communication, 23:5 (December 2006), 453-461.

[3]Lévy, Bernhard-Henri. Left in Dark Times. A Stand Against the New Barbarism. Random House, 2008, 52.

[4] See Paul Hollander’s review of two recent Žižek books, Violence (Picador, 2008) and In Defense of Lost Causes (Verso, 2008), “Slavoj Žižek and the Rise of the Celebrity Intellectual”, Society July-August, 2010, pp. 358-360.

[5]Žižek, Slavoj. The Parallax View. MIT Press, 2006, 286.

[6] See Paul Hollander’s review, note 4.

[7] Alain Badiou, “The Communist Hypothesis”, New Left Review January-February 2008, pp. 29-42.

[8] On this note it is worth pointing to the recent politics of Colombia where, for the last eight years (2002-2010), an immensely popular president (according to opinion polls that may well have employed questionable methodologies in gathering their information), saw fit to transgress the institutions that would limit his apparently immensely popular policies, while presiding over social dynamics that included forced displacements, extrajudicial killings, only minor improvements in poverty statistics, the corruption of the national congress, spying by the secret police on constitutional court justices, and other calamities. It was only this same constitutional court, in its defense of the country’s quite immature institutionality, that was able to rule out his ongoing occupation of the president’s office—a ruling which leftists and many not remotely on the left applauded enthusiastically and gratefully. Why? Because the conservative function of the instititutions is not ipso facto a bad thing.

[9]The question begged by such a position is, of course, why then to do both authors, but most egregiously Žižek, keep on writing. Why don’t they just, like Bartleby, prefer not to?

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