Monday, September 20, 2010

Interview with Nancy Fraser on the dissolution of secular utopian social movements

I found this interview interesting, especially the point Fraser makes near the end that many of those who now join radical religious movements would have joined radical socialist or anticapitalist movements in the past. The difference is that now, there is no coherent left political movement that can provide what those religious movements do, namely a connection to something greater than oneself that reflects a coherent conception of justice, both social and, one would seemingly have to add, metaphysical. The fracturing of the left is of course an impossible event to circumscribe completely, but as a start it is important to consider the role of identity politics in hastening that fracturing. If all individuals are concerned with their own defined political niche and how the political structures currently in place oppress them specifically, it becomes much more difficult to see how those structures oppress everyone, the poor, women, queer people, people of other ethnicities, and even, I would add, animals, not to mention the damaged individuals who in fact benefit from those structures. As much current discussion has shown, it is precisely the notion of individual liberty being paramount that neoliberalism wishes to make the basis of political existence. This tendency towards political atomization is the largest problem facing the left today, and can only be overcome by recognizing the common interests held by all which can only be satisfied through actively fighting against that tendency.

I suppose that there is a possible problem of communication between a liberal position that recognizes the pervasive growth of oppressive power structures everywhere while recognizing the different effects and consequences of those structures, and a fundamentally nonliberal religious position which, usually, possesses an intolerant view of difference. I believe that the key to overcoming this problem is twofold: liberal education and the encouragement of the possibility of critical distance on one's most cherished beliefs which results from that education; and showing that, in principle, liberal democracy could provide the politically neutral space for collective ways of human life free of and apart from the economic interests which currently drive it.[1] Perhaps this is too optimistic. However, even if the tension between liberal tolerance and belief in natural right, religiously founded or otherwise, is an intractable problem, at least the attempt to overcome the problem can serve to moderate the polarizing and sometimes violent responses to it.

[1] This is a big 'if' and perhaps goes against the basis of liberal democracy as it is currently understood and practiced (I am thinking here of Lockean individual property rights--run rampant--which provide much of the theoretical framework for the North American political-economic system). Perhaps I am too naive concerning the prospects of what liberal democracy could provide if it is shorn of its economic mooring. I am not sure what would remain after a redistribution of wealth in line with political ideas that themselves fall outside the purview of liberal democracy's theoretical underpinnings. But, I ask, what is utopian or idealistic political thought if not naive, at least a little?

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