Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Liberal authoritarians and radical liberals

I'm not a liberal reformist in my temperment. In my ideology, perhaps some might see me that way. I don't argue against radical change -I'm all for it- but I do think the means matter. Anyway, Alan Johnson has a piece at Dissent's blog in which one line particularly hits me:
“Revolutionary politics” he told us, “is not a matter of opinions but of the truth on behalf of which one often is compelled to disregard the ‘opinion of the majority’ and to impose the revolutionary will against it.”
That "he" in "he told us" is Slavoj Žižek, and what hits me is the incredible inadequacy of any revolution that requires authoritarianism to quell the masses it has failed to persuade. I'm going to go ahead and call Žižek a liberal reformist for his indifference to the radical project of convincing people. He's still attached to the view that it's only what the elites do that matters, but I don't think you can ever have real, meaningful change (especially on issues such as racism) merely by switching one set of elites for another.

Johnson links to an older piece he wrote for Workers' Liberty (some punctuation corrected here, for clarity):
[Noberto] Bobbio made many other contributions to socialist thinking. A leading figure in the peace movements of the 1980s, he had criticised the post-war pro-Soviet fake "peace movements". His words of 1952 should cause some - those waving the "victory to the Resistance" placards - to think about the kind of "anti-war movement" they are building today.

"Strange peacemakers, these 'partisans of peace'. They offer themselves as mediators to establish peace between the two contenders. But they announce from the outset and without any reticence that one of the contenders is right and one is wrong."
I'm definitely gonna use that! In that piece, he calls Bobbio "part of an Italian tradition of radical liberalism." Perhaps that's what I am, a radical liberal, but I'll probably just go on using the catch-all term, Leftist.

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