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Socialism and Democracy

Socialism and Democracy:

Beyond State and Civil
Roger Harris

This article started life as a review of John Keane’s
Public Life and Late Capitalism ..:. Towards ~ Socialist
Thaor y of Democracy (Cambridge University Press, 1984),
an Lt begins with a brief account of this important book.

In the sections which follow I have tried to trace the
source of what I take to be the unhelpful political
implications of Keane’s book, and of the critical theory of
Habermas on which it largely builds. Taking a cue from
Keane’s own discussion (at the end of his final chapter) of
the pr(‘olems with the concept of democracy bequeathed to
the modern world by Rousseau, I look briefly at the
attempt Hegel made to harmonise the tensions which lay
within political phllosophy at the close of the classical
period of contractarian thought.

Marx’s demonstration that Hegel’s synthesis could not
be sustained, I then argue, has led socialists to ‘retreat’ to
a position much like Rousseau’s. This is so even though it
was not Hegel’s advances on Rousseau and Kant in the
formulation of ethical and social objectives for political
philosophy that Marx rejected, but Hegel’s attempt to
show how their achievements within the state could be
compatible with bourgeois property relations, sustained
and exercised within civil society. Marx saw private
property in the sphere of social wealth as a logical, not
merely a contingent obstacle to the achievement, within
the state, of Hegel’s interdependent and complementary
objectives of ethical universality in collective social life
and ethical autonomy in the life of the individual squared
with individual satisfaction and cooperative order in the
realm of needs. This was because of the incoherence of
Hegel’s theory of the political relation of representation
between state and civil society, and because of the
exclusion of the propertyless from one half of the
state/civil society couple.

The force of such a critique, however, rests on the
appropriateness of those Hegelian objectives the
achievement of which is necessarily frustrated by the
institution of private property in the sphere of social
wealth. If we accept Marx’s critique of the institution of
private property, therefore, we accept those objectives,
and with them Hegel’s demonstration that individual
ethical autonomy and ethical universality in collective
life are logically interdependent, not achievable
independently of one another, and not, as Rousseau left
them, two polarities in irreconcilable tension (the tension
between unanimous direct democracy and Spartan
discipline) and in a different universe from freedom to
satisfy needs in a state of nature.

Hegel gave the appropriately ironic title the ‘beautiful

soul’ to the tendency to fly to that extreme of this tension
which neglects ethical universality and allows total
precedence to the ethical autonomy of the individual. The
logic of this position, I argue, underlies an ‘elective
affinity’ between varieties of romantic individualism,
hostility to bureaucracy and to instrumental activity ~
se rather than to any malign interests such activity might
serve, and a political view of democracy which iocates
this notion exclusively in individual autonomy and self
expression (‘discursive wiH-formation’ in Habermas’s
phrase) irrespective of the substantive content of the
‘democratic decision’. This, I argue, leads quite naturally
to the suggestion with which Keane concludes his book,
namely to defend what he te”ms a ‘socialist civil society’.

In contrast, I suggest that socialists need to theorise
the notion of a ‘democratic cause’ which requires the
political discipline of solidarity, and in which the form of
decision making is not an ethical carte blanche for the
content of the decision, yet which neither substitutes mere
spontaneity for organisation nor puts the decisions of the
central committee in the place of the conscience of the
individual. To steer a course, in other words, between
pluralist notions of democracy, on the one hand, and, on
the other, the neo-Rousseauian tension of the left between
spontaneous mass mobilisation and (Spartan) party

Keane –

Public Life and Late Capitalism

John Keane’s book is largely concerned with the
theorisation of problems that bureaucracy poses for late
capitalist society. Keane begins by identifying a number
of features of the present crisis of welfare state
capitalism. The widely trumpeted ‘failure of
Keynesianism’ he sees as combining with accelerating
difficulties in the administration of the mechanisms of
social control embodied in welfare state capitalism. This
has produced a situation in which states cannot square the
opposed imperatives of legitimation by the administration
of social tranquillity, through state welfare, and of
stimulation of the necessary levels of investment to
generate revenue to fund that welfare provision (which, it
had been previously assumed, could occur without any
radical redistribution of wealth).

This, Keane argues, has provided the opportunity for the
‘new liberalism’ to attack state bureaucracies in the name
of the freedom of the (economic) individual. Parallel
with, although ostensibly opposed to this tendency, he
identifies a neo-corporatist trend which argues not for less
but for greater and more efficient state direction of
resources. (Both, it may be noted, can be found in the


rhetoric and actions of the present government, subjecting
welfare provision simultaneously to the inroads of
privatisation and of draconian central control.) Keane
accordingly identifies, as the problematic of his book, the
dellneation of spheres of autonomy in publlc Hfe
oppositional to both these tendencies.

His introduction, however, sets the scene for an
extended account of the evolution of theories of
bureaucracy, since he sees the justification of autonomous
spheres of public Hfe as primarl1y to be accompllshed by
counterposing them to the bureaucratic control of society.

Beginning with an excel1ent essay on Weber’s contribution
to the theory of bureaucracy, Keane, looking for an
alternative to Weber’s pessimism, gives equally good
accounts of the subsequent attempts by Adorno, Offe and,
principal1y, Habermas to theorise these matters. Despite
his originality and philosophical sophistication, Adorno
appears to Keane to be no less pessimistic than Weber,
while adding far greater weight to the spectre of a
‘total1y administered society’ under late capitalism.

Habermas is taken to task for his nostalgia for an
anachronistic and probably inaccurate conception of the
freedom of early bourgeois public life. Final1y examined
is the proposal of Habermas and Offe, that there exist
self-defeating, crisis-provoking tendencies within modern

Keane then turns his attention to Habermas’s
philosophical doctrines, beginning with a critical
exposition of the theses associated principally with
Knowledge and Human Interests, regarding the
lIlegitimate universalisation of technical/instrumental
rationality to those realms which are properly the
province of the communicative and critical knowledgeconstitutive interests of reason. He goes on to examine the
basis of Habermas’s later exploration of a theory of
communicative competence, and concludes his discussion
of Habermas by raising some problems for the latter’s
account of natural science. There are, first of all, the
difficulties which arise as a consequence of those accounts
of natural science – e.g. Kuhn – which contest the
hegemony of positivism over science, effectively conceded
by Habermas. Lastly, Keane raises the provocative
question of the ‘oppositional’ character of the natural
science of ecology” All in all, his discussions of
Habermas – of his various and numerous influences and
antecedents, his critiques of his predecessors, and of the
thrust of his grand theory – are penetrating and
exceedingly well informed.


In the final chapter Keane complements his preceding
themes by situating the problems they raise within the
historical framework bequeathed by the intellectual
failure of contractarian liberaHsm, and its practical
supersessions by the bureaucratic state. He concludes that
a retrieval is necessary of the valuation of the realms of
privacy and autonomy, unsuccessfully defended by
contractarian liberallsm, in the face of the universal
bureaucrat~ing tendencies of modern states and
corporations. Rather than the abolition of the distinction
between the state and civil society for which Marx argued,
Keane sees the need to deepen this divide, as a bulwark
against state and corporate bureaucracies.

Without wishing to raise any doubt as to the merits of
Keane’s book, it strikes me that the difficulties with
modern Critical Theory, many of which Keane himself
sharply identifies, add up ultimately to decisive
objections, rather than mere ‘anomalies’ in its
development as a viable paradigm for polltical practice.

In what follows I will try to set out a few of my





,…. :.,’;”.,:.


Some ‘Elective Affinities’ and the ‘Opium of the

It is absolutely clear from Keane’s analysis just how much
subsequent theories of bureaucracy, including that of
Habermas himself, owe to Weber. Weber’s general
account of the puritan secularisation of asceticism and its
elective affinity with capitallst economic rationallty
yields the notion of the modern ‘ca11lng’ – with its
devotion to the performance of tasks for their own sake shorn of al1 its original rellgious or moral dignity, and
ready to be bent to the formal-rational imperatives of
bureaucracy. To that ‘formal rationallty’ Weber contrasts
the notion of ‘substantive rationality’ – based upon
immediate and personal judgements of value, which,
because they are individual, turn out to be pluralistic,
contingent anc:Tbased on irreconcilable standards, when
seen from a social perspective. Habermas takes over this
bifurcation of rationallty, strengthening and deepening it
in turn, by locating it in the ontology of human action.

There is, however, another relation of ‘elective
affinity’ that we should not fail to notice. It is between
this account of ‘substantive rationallty’ in which the
individual’s own authentic value judgements are in play
(as opposed to ‘formal rationality’ whose objectives are
externally imposed) and the continuity of the moral
stance of romantic individualism, intensifying from
Rousseau, through Kant to Nietzsche, and culminating in
Sartrean existentialism. This counterposes the absolute
authority of conscience to all that is outside the self.

Keane traces to Nletzsche, through Weber, and on to the
Frankfurt School (note 58 to the final chapter) the idea
that the acceptance of a discipline extraneous to the self
is antithetical to true moral autonomy, and that it is in
becoming a means to some other end rather than an end in
one’s self that the moral failure lies. The iniquity of
instrumentality and of the domination of the individual by
a realm of (apparent) causality – governed by technical
instrumentality – resting ultimately on the pror.nptings of
inclination rather than duty, underlines the Kantian
provenance of the notion of autonomy at work here. It
only remains to add Nietzsche’s vision of the utterly
trackless moral landscape of the modern world in which
we (science) have ‘killed God’.

This, in sociological terms, becomes the relativity,
contingency, and pluralism of Weber’s ‘substantive
rationallty’. It is the ultimate meaninglessness of such
moral freedom that Sartre so acutely diagnosed, and from
which he himself finally recoiled. Nor is it stretching
interpretation too much to identify this with the fate
Hegel identified for the ‘beautiful soul’ – the
consciousness for which individual ethical autonomy is decoupled from substantive ethical universality, and for
which all turns on purity of intention. I worry that the
popularity of theories critical of bureaucracy, from Weber
onwards, rest, at the end of the day, on bureaucracy’s
moral repugnance to bourgeois intellectuals that stems
from their moral disapproval of bad faith – lack of

In Keane’s book, perhaps as forcefully as anywhere, are
catalogued, summarised and articulated all those reasons
intellectuals have found to loathe and despise
contemporary bureaucracy, and yet, by abjuring all its
works, to do absolutely nothing about it. The style of
Critical Theory, and the milieu in which it flourishes seem
to me to add to the ideological strength of existing
bureaucracies, much in the way that the aristocratic
disdain for ‘trade’ helped leave the way clear for the
commercial classes to prosper. The intellectual’s
distaste for the ‘bureaucrat’ is a sort of Chekhovian folly •
Whlle the very word has become the epitome of the modern
insult on their lips, many intellectuals on the left seek
to present their own fractious ineptitude as a sign of their
moral distinction:–=–‘we never compromised!’

If, however, anything is ever to be done, it will demand

uncomfortable compromises of conscience, domestic
routine, presentation of self to others, and of other
aspects of one’s pure and autonomous privacy so jealously
guarded by intellectuals. The morally fastidious
disinclination ever to make those compromises is, in
effect, the refusal of ~ moral discipllne. But then
is so much better always to have been in the right – even
when you changed your mind – than actuaJly to have
bruised your own authenticity and autonomy by sometimes
deciding that you ought to agree with other people, rather
than always to insist that they agree ‘with ~.

The phllosophical and ideological bankruptcy of the
tradition of expllcating moral autonomy as unconditioned
‘authentic’ self-determination of moral decisions,
however, does nothing to diminish its contemporary appeal
to a certain fraction of the intelligentsia (including
Habermas, as Keane notes). Ideal-typically they are those
who nurture a romantic nostalgia for that mythic time
when the emancipation of the individual was the heroic
ideal of those intellectuals who, we read in our (hi)story
books, bestrode the world – or at least the coffee houses
and salons – Jlke colossi. This was the age when an
intellectual did what an intellectual had to do – flee the
king’s displeasure, get his head chopped off, starve in a
garret, go mad, leave his chlldren at the foundlings’ home,
or something equally striking. (There cannot have been so
many of these ‘men for all seasons’ either, because the
really nice thing about the (hl)stories was that they all
seemed to know one another, just llke the Knights of the
Round Table, and the gun fighters of the Old West!) We
should need no Cervantes or Peckinpah to debunk this
particular myth – yet another high-minded gloss for class
rapacity – the equivalent in our age of the chivalry of
Quixote •.

Today the better parallel is with disillusioned
westerns – ‘Guns in the Afternoon’, ‘The Wlld Bunch’, etc.

The rallroad and the Maxim Gun arrived long ago in the
‘Wlld West of Ideas’. This essay, this magazine, John
Keane’s book, the Cambridge University Press, our jobs,
are all part of the corn modification and
professionalisation of intellectual production; and as for
the Maxim Gun – ‘commodification’ alone has 18 entries in
the index of Keanes’s book, and his Chapter 2 boasts no
less than 170 bibliographical notes. I do not deplore this
– indeed I applaud it – Keanes’s sheer competence in
exegesis, synthesis and scholarship is daunting, to me at
least. My point is this: competence of this llk is a virtue
of ‘formal’, not of ‘substantive’ rationality – in the
‘calling’ of the academic no less than in that of the
‘bureaucrat’ – so perhaps ‘formal’ rationality need not be
alJ bad!

-(think, however, that the myth of the ‘Chivalry’ or the
‘Wild West’ of ideas is all bad, along with the
preposterous notion oT moral autonomy peddled in its
wake. According to this myth, there can be no
accommodation between authenticity and moral discipline.

Discipline is for bureaucrats, party hacks, apparatchiks,
union time-servers. It can always be made out to have its
extraneous and demeaning instrumentality – ‘Buggin’s
turn’, if nothing else. It is here that we find the
intellectual source’ .for the self-indulgent sectarian rot of
the left – the preference for being able to say ‘I told you
so’ over the risk of only partial success, the impulse
symbolically to break oneself on the wheel of the state
over Bank Holidays, but not to get involved in any
organisational responsibility because of one’s detestation
of administrative competence as the mark of the
‘bureaucrat’, and so forth. In short, the ‘opium of the
intelligentsia’ – an ideology for the self-marginallsation
of the disaffected romantic’ bourgeois intellectual.

The ‘refusal of all moral discipline’ is at the root of
this. The ‘moral discipline’ I have in mind is solidarity not the ‘solidarity’ of sentimental gesture, but a
disciplined and binding llfe-time commitment not
depending on individual vagaries, which is antithetical to

the conventional rhetoric of ‘conscience’. For today it is
almost always against the solidarity of collective action
that the degenerate ideology of ‘conscience’ is directed to make heroes out of scabs, whlle those devoted to a just
cause are implicitly disparaged as a ‘mob’ in the grip of
nothing more than ‘bad faith’. The farrago of ‘conscience’

needs to be disentangled from the overall fabric of
‘bourgeois rights and liberties’ – most of which retain their
genuine value.

The emptiness of ‘conscience’, by contrast, derives from
taking nothing more than a trivially necessary condition of
any moral action – namely that an individual has to choose
to perform it in order to be the responsible agent – to be a
self-sufficient virtue of moral action in its own right. So
your joining with others is seen somehow to detract from
the virtue of your action. While this once harmlessly
overemphasised the virtue of pioneers of individualism, it
now serves to allow reactionary hacks to ‘discover
uncommon virtue’ in mere perversity, as though there were
something praiseworthy about bucking the view of a
majority and standing alone, like Luther, irrespective of
what it was on which you actually took your stand! (This,
by the way, is no attack upon Amnesty International’s
defence of ‘prisoners of conscience’: the grounds for not
coercing people who threaten no one are valld
irrespective of the virtue or sWiness of their opinions, but
such opinions do not become more virtuous the fewer the
people who share them!)

This thread of ‘elective affinity’ is by no means broken
when we come to the views of Habermas. In his attempt to
formulate and ground a notion of rational autonomy he
does try to move decisively beyond the dead end of
contingency and arbitrariness. By shifting the arena of
autonomous reason from unconstrained individual moral
decision to the rule-governed public realm of
communication, Habermas is able transcendentally to
derive a non-arbitrary order for autonomous reason from
the necessary presuppositions of the act of communication.

It is, however, only order at the level of discourse – not a
substantive order – and Keane;Tn Chapter 5, notes a
number of difficulties: – with the resulting contrast
between ‘distorted’ and ‘undistorted’ communication, in
relation to the Marxian notion of ideology; with the
abstractness of the ‘communicating subject’; and with the
activity of proclaiming what ought to be without paying
heed to how it can be.

There is theTurther difficulty, noted by Lukes (in his
contribution to Habermas: Critical Debates Cede J. B.

Thompson and D. Held) that,’ in effect this approach, like
Rawls’s ‘original position’, and Kant before them, gives
the form but not the content of autonomous reason. For
the abstraction from the ‘ideal speech situation’,


envisaged by Habermas, of all those motives participants
bring from their social lives, so that ‘all motives except
that of the cooperative search for truth are excluded’

(Legitimation Crisis, p. 108) abolishes the very subject
matter – the resolution of conflicts in social life – to the
truth concerning which we seek to apply autonomous

Habermas rebuts the accusation of abstractness and
unreality (in his ‘Reply’ in !:!~.Q) by arguing that,
empirically, participants could not suppose they were
taking part in an argument were they not sufficiently to
presuppose themselves to be aiming cooperatively for the
truth. That may be granted. However, it is not enough to
make each right about the others. Moreover, even if
participants did ent~r an argument in ‘good faith’ – setting
aside all motives of theirs they acknowledged as being in
conflict, in favour of the aim of cooperatively arriving at
truth, this would not guarantee their setting aside, or even
discerning, those motives other than cooperatively arriving
at truth, which they shared. (Look in academic journals,
where this illusion of the cooperative search for truth is
most prevalent, and remember the injunction ‘Publish or
It is not, however, in the empirical unrealisabillty of
the ‘ideal speech situation’ that its fundamental weakness
lies, but in its sharing that variety of contractarian
illusion involved in supposing that it is subjects who
constitute the social contract, rather than the other way
about. It is in this respect, too, that the thread of
‘elective affinity’ with romantic individualisms is

Hegel’s Attempt to Transcend the Dilemmas of
Keane’s survey of the vicissitudes and decay of
contractarian liberalism, though excellent, is concerned
principally with JiberaJlsm’s practical demise, rather
than with its inteJJectual weakness. In the latter regard,
however, the problems we face, in Keane’s view, are those
bequeathed by Rousseau, for it was he, as Keane notes,
who was the first radkal critic of that variety of
contractarianism which;” I wiJJ argue, is stiJJ to be found
in Habermas. (Even th<ugh, in other parts of his work, he
was the originator of rollantic individualism – as opposed
to the 'possessive' variet'y – according to which the
individual's 'realm of freedom' lay in the sphere of
conscience rather than of property).

The infamous (to liberals) remark that the recalcitrant
should be ‘forced to be free’, which Keane quotes, is
indicative of a different ordering of logical priorities in
relation to the social contract from those customarily
labeJJed ‘contractarian’. (And, while Rousseau himself
may have equivocated somewhat on this reordering, his
heirs amongst functionalist sociologists do not.) The
notions of ‘discursive will-formation’ (Habermas) or of
‘publicly negotiated consent and obligation’, which Keane
attributes to the contractarians, presuppose that moral
subjects pre-exist, or at least may be transcendentally’

constituted independently of any such process. By
contrast, if we do not regard him through Kantian
spectacles, Rousseau, in the Social Contract, is seen to
propose that the realm of consent and obligation is
logically prior to and constitutive of human beings as
moral subjects. The moral freedom that the recalcitrant
(i.e. every child) may need to be forced to accept is thus
antithetical to the state of nature of both Hobbes and
Rousseau, characterised by that freedom from obligation
which Kant identified with the heteronomy of inclination.

Rousseau, however, unJlke Kant, sees the moral subject
emerging from this state of nature socially, not as being
transcendentally constituted.

Hegel concurred with Rousseau, rather than Kant, on
this last point. Otherwise, in seeking to harmonise moral
freedom and freedom from obligation respectively in the


state as the realm of ethical universality and civil
society as the realm of private liberty, Hegel adopts the
Kantian attribution of autonomy to the former and
heteronomy to the latter. (The heteronomy may either be
that of the subject’s own inclinations, or of those of
another making the subject a means to some end.) What is
surprising about Keane’s closing plea for the deepening
rather than ‘the abolition of the (contractarian) distinction
between civil society and the state, as Marx would have
it’ is that the total reversal of these attributions has
taken place. Civll society has come to be seen as the
realm of autonomous public (not private) life, while the
state (though public) has become the realm of heteronomy,
principally through its bureaucratisation and consequent
subservience to instrumentality. (It is worth noting, too,
that for Hegel, the non-contractarian character of the
state/civll society distinction was crucial in the ascent,
through the State, to ethical universality above the level
of agreements struck between individuals in civil society.)

Marx’s Critique of Hegel’s Synthesis
For Marx, Hegel’s synthesis falled not because it sought
the wrong ethical objectives, but because it could not
accompJlsh them. The state, as the realm of ethical
universality, can only be so in so far as it embodies the
political life of the citizenry who comprise it. The
‘citizenry’, however, are identical with the individuals
who comprise civil society, and Marx saw insuperable
contradictions inherent in the ‘representation’ of the
latter in and by the former:

The object of representation is not the particular
interest of man and his citizenship of the state, the
universal interest. On the other hand, the
particular interest is the material of
representation, and the spirit of this interest is the
spirit of the representation (Critique of Hegel’s .

Doctrine of the State, Penguin edition, p. 197).

This contradiction is side-stepped in the Philosophy of
Right (paras. 309, 310) by a move in which Marx finds
‘Hegel’s mindless illogicality and “managerial” sense are
really nauseating’ (~HDS, p. 195). ‘Confidence’ in
political representation is the guarantee for those
represented that their ‘interests are made good in the
assembly whose business is the general interest’ and ‘that
their deputy will further and secure this general interest’

(~g, addition to para. 309).

However, Hegel maintains
(~g, para. 310) that, through experience of ‘the actual
transaction of business in managerial and official
positions’ the deputy ‘also acquires and develops a
managerial and political sense, tested by his experience,
and this is a further guarantee of his suitability as a
deputy’. As Marx notes, ‘Imperceptibly this guarantee
required .2Y the electors has been transformed into a
guarantee against the electors’ (~HDS, p. 195).

But it is precisely the bogus character in fact of the
purported ethical universality of the state that is tacitly
acknowledged by Hegel’s sleight of hand in citing the
expertise of the deputy as a guarantee of suitability (as.

Marx put it, against the electorate). (Marx makes
overmuch of. the Prussian character of this cast of thought.

It is ironic that the same idea emerges in Brecht’s tart
comment, at the East German communist party’s expression
of ‘disappointment in the people’, that it should perhaps
dissolve them and elect another.) Hegel’s ‘manageriallsm’

is a consequence of the entailment, by the central
contradiction Marx identified in the notion of
representation, of the drift of the apparatus Hegel called
‘the. state’ into a condition of heteronomy ‘divorced from
civil society’ for which, Hegel falsely claims, it
represents ethical universallty. The alternative to this,
as Marx saw it, was that civil society should turn out to
be ‘the ·real polltical society’ (~HDS, p. 189).

Marx’s ‘Retreat’ to a Position Much Like Rousseau’s
It is important, in discussIng the conclusions Marx draws,
to distinguish ‘the state’ qua polltical society from ‘the
state’ qua administrative apparatus. It is the distinction
between the former notion and that of civil society which,
Marx argues, is incoherent at the point of the relation of
representation which is supposed to mediate between these
two spheres, so that the actuality of the state is that of an
administrative machine separate from society. This actual
machinery is an instrument for the domination of society,
which is ideologically legitimated at two levels – the
more superficial being that of bogus claims to ethical
universallty, while the more sophisticated (Hegel’s
‘manageriallsm’) is that of bogus claims to neutral
technical administrative competence. This actual
instrument of domination by the ruHng class is the state
which must be ‘smashed’. On the other hand, were the
state the true realm of ethical universaHty, Marx argues,
then it could no more be distinct from civil society than
the individuals who were members of civil society could
be distinct from themselves as citizens of the state. It is
the state in this latter sense which wl11 ‘wither away’

once establlshed – there being neither the need nor the
basis for its continued separation from civil society. (Cf.

On the Jewish Question, Penguin edition, p. 234 – see
especiaJIy the quotation from Rousseau. See also
Colletti’s introduction to this edition.)
On the polltical theory that emerged in CHDS and was
still being applled in CWF, those forms of ‘representation’

which fall into contradiction in· respect of general and
particular interests wl11 never suffice for true ethical
universallty to emerge from civil society, no matter how
widely the vote is distributed. They must be replaced by
the direct involvement of the people or of their mandated
delegates in the management of affairs. This requires
there to be a true ‘universal class’ to wield a power that
overcomes that wielded by the bogus ‘universal class’ the servants of the bogus state.

On this theory, of cour~e, the only candidate to wield
such power wl11 be the proletariat – which is genuinely a
potential universal class not because of its commitment to
the bogus ethical universallty of the actual state but
because of its unmitigated ‘all sided’ (Critique of Hegel’s
Philosophy of Right: Introduction, p. 256) opposition to It.

This is because the proletariat, as the propertyless class,
has no place in the civil society of property owners, and
so is excluded from the purportedly general, but actually
sectional, interest represented in the bourgeois state. It is
only by the abolltion of particularised private property
that the potentially universal class can enter the arena
of interests from which it had been excluded, and, at the
same time, abollsh the basis for antagonistic class
relations, so as to become the universal class that it had
potentially been. This must entail the abolition of civil
society – the realm of private property – no less than that
of the state delineated in contradistinction to it.

However, while that bogus but actual state – the mere
pretender to ethical universality which is no more than
the machinery for capital’s suppression of labour – has to
be ‘smashed’, a true state, in the sense that it is the true
bearer of the ethically universal, must be established to

supplant it. This latter, true state will only ‘wither
away’ in the sense that there is neither the need nor the
basis for its continued separation from civil society, not in
the sense that there will be no need for organisation,
democracy or ethical universallty.

Thus Marx writes approvingly of the Paris Commune:

The unity of the nation was not to be broken, but,
on the contrary, to be organised by the Communal
constitution and to become a reallty by the
destruction of the state power which claimed to be
the embodiment of that unity independent of, and
superior to the nation itself, from which it was but
a parasitic excrescence. While the merely
repressive organs of the old governmental power
were to be amputated, its legitimate functions [my
emphasis] were to be wrested from an authority
usurping pre-eminence over society itself, and
restored to the responsible agents of society (CWF,
p. 210).

As CoHetti has argued, and Marx himself makes clear
(OJQ, p. 234), this polltical theory takes us back to
Rousseau, except that Marx has a particular identity in
mind for the agent’, to take on the task set the ‘legislator’

by Rousseau:

Whoever dares to undertake the founding of a
people’s institutions must feel himself capabJe of
changing so to speak, human nature, of tran·sforming
each individual, who in himself is a complete and
solitary whole, into a part of a greater whole from
which he somehow receives his life and being, of
substituting a partial and moral existence for
physical and independent existence. He must take
man’s ~ powers away from him and substitute for
them allen ones which he can only use with the
assistance of others (OJQ, p. 234, quoted from SC,
Book 11, Chapter VII, 3rd para.).

It is not to be a mythica’l legislator separated from
society, but the proletariat, which wlU do this, not by
separating humanity’s moral and physical existence, but by
restoring their unity, and so unify society too, at both the
material and moral levels. I want to argue that Marx’s
retreat to this position, which is far more akin to that of
Rousseau than that of Hegel, has bequeathed to the Left
ever since a number of deep-rooted problems regarding
democracy, leadership and mobllisation. In order to do so
we need to return our attention to Hegel once more, in
order to see in what sense Marx’s theory was a ‘retreat’.

Finding Our Way About in the Wreckage of Hegel’s
Hegel, aiming to harmonise publlc duty and private
interest in his theory of the state, had also sought to
reconcile two supplementary lines of tension within
contractarianism which threatened it with incoherence.

The first, to which I have already aJJuded, Jles between
the notion of pre-existing moral subjects constituting a
social contract and the notion of their being constituted as
moral subjects by a pre-existing social order. (Hegel
erroneously saw Rousseau as having concerned himself
exclusively with the former – see PR, remark to para.

258.) The second line of tension involves the determinants
of rational moral autonomy: on the one hand, the


individual’s autonomy would seem necessarily to have t9
be a state which was both unconditioned and selfsufficient (what Hegel calls ‘conscience’); yet, on the
other hand, it seems that ‘conscience’ must either accept
heteronomy or complete emptiness and abdication (what
Hegel calls the ‘beautiful soul’) unless it accepts its
participation in and being conditioned by the collective
ethical life (PR, para. 139). (Hegel’s characterisation of
the ‘beautifufsoul’ reveals that there is after all a
rational connection between the moral prediaments of the
varieties of romantic individualism, not a merely
contingent ‘elective affinity’.) The reconciliation of both
these tensions in Hegel’s theory are inextricably linked to
the apotheosis of the collective ethical life in the state.

If this reconciliatIon fails, then a great deal comes adrift.

It seems to me that Marx does succeed in showing that this
reconcilation fails on two counts – in respect of the
incoherence of Hegel’s conception of representation, and
in respect of the exclusion of the propertyless both from
the freedom from obligation exercised within civil society
with respect to one’s property and from the moral freedom
to follow obligation exercised within the state with
respect to one’s citizenship.

If this fundamental harmonisation of freedoms founders
on the inadequacy of the institutions of representation and
of private property, then so, too, do the attempts to
reconcile the two supplementary tensions mentioned
above. The first consequence must be that it is no longer
coherent to suppose that the ‘state’ and ‘civil society’ are
two distinct realms of operation for these two freedomswhich exhaustively divide society.

Hegel specifically conceived of the distinctiveness of
the state as the political arena as that which marked it
off from civil society. The ‘political’ for Hegel, however,
was the pursuit of the universal interest (what today is
colloquially called ‘statesmanship’ as distinct from
‘politics’). The sort of contention of particular,
sectional, antagonistic interests which constitutes
contemporary pluralistic ‘politics’ would properly belong
to what Hegel would have termed ‘civil society’. Yet that
latter sphere itself has swallowed all the ‘politics’ that
actually exists because none of it measures up to the
standard of ethical universality Hegel set. So the
ethically universal (with which the particularistic as a
distinct realm in actuality needs to be contrasted in order
to pick out ‘civil society’ as Hegel understood it) is not to
be found in the state as it actually is, or anywhere else
for that matter, for the reasons set out above. The best
that Marx could accomplish was the identification of a
potential fulfiller of the ethically universal in that
class which is unconditionally opposed to, because wholly
excluded from, the bourgeois civil society and state.

(With the advent of universal suffrage, in which Marx
initially placed great hopes – see end of CHDS – the total
exclusion of the proletariat from citizenship was

breached. But the actual state does not come to embody
the true ethical universal just because everybody is a
citizen. Because of the relation between state and civil
society, such ‘citizenship’ is purely formal – comprising
actual duties but only notional rights – as a consequence
of the exclusion of such citizens from property ownership
and, hence, from membership of the actual civil society see (d) below.)
If we tried to be clear, then we might say that:

(a) Hegel’s rational ‘state’ does not exist in actuality;
(b) the actual state is no longer distinct from Hegel’s
rational ‘civil society’;
so that
(c) Hegel’s rational’,’civil society’ does not exist in
(d) the actual civil society does not contain, as individuals
enjoying freedom in their property, all those people whom
the self-styled state subjects to the obligations contained
in its laws;


with the further consequence that
0) actual society is not exhaustively divided between the

actual state and the actual tivil society – there is a third
sphere of yet-to-be-actualised rights which would flow
from true ethical universality, but are not granted by
actual states, nor fulfillable in actual civil societies.

(In general, these are not exercisable by individuals with
respect to private property within civil society as Hegel
envisaged it, but may only be exercised collectively, in
concert with others. This is the sphere within which what
want to identify as ‘democratic causes’ belong – see
The collapse of Hegel’s synthesis directly or indirectly
set in train a number of developments in the selfunderstanding of modern societies, in addition to those for
which Marx was responsible. Those who control states
will, to this day, pretend that the state as an institution
constitutes the ethical universality which demands an
absolute duty from individuals to belong and an absolute
right over them in consequence. But they would, wouldn’t
they? This is transparently ideological, and seldom
believed even by those who do not understand the term

While the purported ethical universality of the state is
actually as changeable as the chameleon skins of
politicians, two other aspects of the state as Hegel
envisaged it are far more concrete, and recognisably tally
with features of social life with which we are familiar.

These, however, have come adrift from the failed synthesis
by which Hegel had bound them up with the ethical
universality of the state. One of these, of course, is the
disinterested administration of the state. The other is the
function of the state in the constituting of the individual
as a moral subject (see PR, remark to para. 258: ‘Since the
state is mind objectified;Tt is only as one of its members
that the individual himself has objectivity, genuine
individuality, and an ethical life.’). Cut off from any
bona fide ethical universality, the forming and sustaining
of the individual by the integration of collective. social
life come to appear as a given, alienated set of social
relations, independent of any will, general or individual.

(Indeed, the idea that it has any ethical content at all has
been progressively drained out of the notion of the
integration of the social system in both ‘right’ and ‘left’

forms of functionalism.)
Equally, Hegel’s account of the disinterested
administration of the state originally rested on the
commitment of the. ‘~universal class’ of civil servants to
the universal interest, and was only secondarily
supplemented by the idea of neutral expertise and
technical administrative competence. If, however, the
former basis for this notion is without substance, as we
have seen it is, then this supplementary prop for the idea
pe comes definitive of an ethically neutral descriptive
concept of the state – this is what Hegel effectively
concedes at the point where Marx upbraids him for

The appearance of instrumental neutrality of the
administrative apparatus of the actual state, however, is
rightly criticised as an ideological appearance masking a
contradictory reality. Instrumental decisions are never
innocent of normative content. Indeed, it is just th’e
objection to bureaucracies, characterised in terms of their
instrumentalism, that it is the pretence of ‘mere’ neutral
instrumentality which serves to justify the removal of
their tacit normative commitments – their political intent
– from the arena of democracy where it ought to belong.

The ‘contradictory reality’ masked by this ideological
representation of neutral instrumentality is de-politicised
politics – the administration of the state in the absence of
anything corresponding to its ‘General Will’, its ethical
basis of legitimacy (hence the entirely correct concern
with processes of ‘legitimation’, which stands to
‘legitimacy’ in the same relation that ‘rationalisation’

stands to ‘rationality’). This ideology is nicely

complemented, too, by the decoupllng from the sphere of
ethics of the notion of the integration of the social
system. For the latter is then simply reined and comes to
appear to be ‘how social systems work’ – the given
framework of social regularities with respect to which the
neutral technical expertise of administration is deployed.

Just because the purported neutral instrumentality of
the bureaucracies which comprise the state as it is picked
out by this descriptive content is an ideological selfrepresentation, the view that ethical autonomy and
democracy are in some sense ‘counterbureaucratic’ and
antithetical to administration is equally ideological. It is
that ideology for the self-marginalisation of the
disaffected romantic bourgeois intellectual which exactiy
complements the ideology of technocratic neutrallty by
which the actual state conceals the exercise of its far
from disinterested power. It is a consistent development
of this ideological position to propose the erection of a
notion of ‘civil society’, as a sphere defined in
contradistinction to, and to be defended against the
bureaucratic state, within the security of which can take
place the practice of autonomy and democracy. The only
‘democracy’ of a civil society whose underlying principles
are privacy and individual autonomy is ‘consumer
sovereignty’. Setting up a notion of civil society in this
way, however, explains how the ethical natures
respectively of the’,state and of civil society as Keane
conceives them are the reverse of what Hegel took them to

Ideological Appearances in Ethical ‘Topsy Turvy

The point of freedom as Keane imagines it might be
defended in what he terms ‘civil society’ is the opposite of
what the freedom from obligation allowed by the privacy
of individual property was..!£!:.., in Hegel’s conception of
civil society. The two senses of the term ‘autonomy’ or
freedom become fatalJy confused, so that, while Lockean
‘human rights’ (to do as you wish with what is inalienably
your own) originalJy operated within the realm of
instrumental private freedom from obligation heteronomy – in respect of property, modern ‘human rights’

are concerned with the exact opposite – the individual’s
right to a moral conscience, to affirm autonomous moral
obllgations. The two principles of freedom here respectively the freedom from obligation, and the freedom
to have obllgations – are diametrically opposed to each

Ironically, in the modern world, it is your conscience,
not your property, which seems to be inalienably yours.

The contradictory reality here (the counterpart, at the
individual level, of de-politicised politics at the
collective level) is conscience de-coupled from ethical
universality and hence from reason – what Hegel termed
the ‘beautiful soul’, masked by the ideology of
‘conscience-as-private-property’. Your conscience, to be
sure, is inalienably yours, but, llke your true private
property, you can do with it what you will, so it can ‘tell’

you whatever you like, and ceases to be distinguishable
from its supposed exact opposite – an inclination in Kant’s
sense. Moreover, it appears that ~ imposition upon it
from outside in the form of discipline – be this rational or
coercive – must be a threat to dispossess you of your
conscience. Your conscience appears to be wholly and
authentically yours – ‘you are your own man’ – just in so
far as no other influence but you yourself has determined
the content of your conscience. (If it made sense, such a
notion of ‘conscience’, since it is no better than an
inclination, would properly belong in the sphere of civil
society. But it is a nonsense: you are no more selfsufficient in determining the content of your conscience
than you are in the exercise of your rights over your
The components of the principal and of the

supplementary tensions Hegel had sought to reconcile
have come adrift from one another. The state is no longer
the locus of ethical universality, and that aspect of it
which was constituted by pr~-existing moral subjects – its
willed aspect – has become an administrative machine
divorced from ethical considerations, while that aspect of
it which pre-existed as social order and constituted moral
subjects ‘has become the ‘integration of the social system’

– the given set of social relations, independent of any
wlll, within which administrative expertise is exercised.

Equally, the very idea that human beings possessed an
ethical autonomy distinct from the freedom from
obligation enjoyed in respect of private property depended
on the participation of the former in the rational
discipline of ethical universallty. While that distinction
breaks down with the individual’s conscience apparently
becoming inallenable private property, the assertion of
proprietary autonomy over the conscience (even more than
over real property) involves denying and blinding oneself
to the obvious truth that social order provides its content,
and thereby exempting that content from critique or
willed alteration. (‘How can I change what I believe by
an act of will?’ is the rhetorical question asked in
defence of this position – the answer is, of course, that you
can do this by giving a moment’s thought to how silly your
bel1efs are!)
Ironically, it seems to us that we are administered by
and have to obey a social power over which we have no
control, while that obedience (to Weber’s ‘formal
rationality’) is contrasted to obeying our own consciences
(‘substantive rationality’) as though the latter were
somehow superior and more authentic because it was less a
social product than the former. E.g. Jehovah’s Witnesseshave to decide between obeying their own consciences
which tell them not to allow their children to have blood
transfusions, or obeying the state which tells them they
must (yet weirdly, asks them to sign a form giving the
permission they cannot refuse). Talk of ‘autonomy’ and
‘control’ here seems to have lost its point: who controls
what, and to what end, and are any of these” ends any
better than any other? This question is just not answered
by asserting the value of freedom of conscience and selfdetermination, independently of the content and direction
of social decisions.

It is interesting to see how these issues emerge in
Habermas’s engagement with Luhmann (Legitimation Crisis,
Part Ill, Ch. 5), whom he quotes (p. 131), speaking of public

To demand ap intensive engaged particulation of
all in them ‘Would be to make a principle of
frustration. Anyone who understands democracy in
this way has, in fact, come to the conclusion that it
is incompatible with rationality.

In relation to administration and social integration, the
ancestral notions of the social contract and the General
Will have become progressively denatured in respect of
their ethical content. These notions retain (what Marx
sees as their fictitious) ethi<;al universality in Hegel's
notion of the state, but, though still ethical in character,
lose their claim to rational universality through
relativisation to a given social system in Durkheim and
Parsons. With Luhmann, however, as Habermas remarks:

7“” ”IN:Jr7T”Ik ,rOlu.'(:7′,


Complex societies are no longer held together and
integrated through normative structures. ••• System
integration, treated from the steering perspective,
becomes independent of social integration
accessible from life-world perspectives (LC, p.


-So Weber’s characterisations of ‘formal’ and
‘substantive’ rationality accurately describe the
subjective reality of the world of moral confusion in
which we find ourselves: a world in which heteronomous
interests dominate the purported sphere of ethical
universality; and the ethically autonomous is driven into
(and only appears defensible within) the realm of what is
purportedly inalienably particular, namely individual
conscience. I hope that I have indicated how neither
‘state’ nor ‘civil society’ any longer remotely resemble
what Hegel purported to mean by them. Indeed, the
incoherence of both of these notions, which Marx
identified, has now come home to roost in the flight of
moral autonomy from the ‘state’ that Hegel envisaged to
‘civil society’ as Keane envisages it. Moral autonomy has
been expelled from Hegel’s ‘state’ by its
bureaucratisation – its invasion by the heteronomy of ‘civil
society’ as Hegel envisaged it. At the same time the
heteronomy of the ‘state as it has become’ has taken on the
state’s collective character, while the moral autonomy
that has fled into ‘civll society as it has become’ has lost
its universality. This is just what Weber’s descriptive
categories reflect. ‘Deepening’ the division between state
and civil society, as Keane recommends, thus seems to me
emphatically not to be the appropriate response, even if it
were clear which notion of the state/civil society division
it was that was thought to represent what it was proper to

Some Problems Socialists have with Democracy
Opposition to a state which no longer represents the
ethically universal, but a sectional interest, in the name
of ‘autonomy’ and ‘democratic control’, must involve
opposing that secti9nal interest not by another sectional
interest, but by the’ universal interest. In contrast to
Habermas and Keane, I would contend that the proper
direction for a critique of the ‘bureaucratic state’ lies in
the attempt to theorise a notion of ‘collective substantive
rationality’ – collective rational autonomy. To seek, in
other words, to locate the notion of autonomy concretely
in the realities of collective social Hfe, rather than
abstractly in the conscience or discursive conduct of the
individual; and to restore to. it the dimension of

universality, without which it must remain subjective and
decoupled from reason.

Autonomy, however, is not like gold, which lies
passively waiting to be stumbled upon. Rather, it has to
be constructed. A theorisation which aims to locate a
notion of autonomy concretely in social life does not tell
us where to find it, but must be an account of the method
of political practice by which collective rational
autonomy is produced. If we just look for it, then we
should not expect to find it to be very common if I am
correct in claiming that Weber’s account of ‘formal’ and
‘substantive’ rationality is apposite to the modern world.

They describe the topsy-turvy moral world in which a
heteronomous collectivity is complemented by autonomy
divorced from universality (and, hence, from reason); but it
is important to stress that mere description will not do
here. It is as though the objective features of situations of
apathy or of confusion were to be described in ways which
omitted to mention that commitment or clarity ought to
have been found there, but was not.

The problem for Marxism has been the weakness of its
attempts at such a theorisation of ‘collective rational
autonomy’, which remain at the quasi-Rousseauian point
from which Marx initially criticised Hegel’s doctrine of
the state. The problem is – what to do with the notion of


the proletariat as the potential universal class. If
Marxists have at all got beyond ‘the proletariat selfconsciously making history’, they have simply and
disastrously surrended the torch of collective rational
autonomy to the trusteeship of the ‘vanguard party’. These
ideas are central to what Marxism can mean by
‘democracy’, and the poverty of its theorisations has led,
respectively, to the idea that democracy is no more than
‘mass mobilisation’, or to the idea that democracy is
realised in the decisions of the Party’s central committee.

These positions merely parallel the’ dilemma inherited
from Rousseau, the two horns distinguished by whether the
problems are seen in terms of moral subjects pre-existing
and constituting the social contract, or whether they are
seen in relation to a realm of consent and obligation that
is logically prior to and constitutive of moral subjects. In
relation to the role marked out for the proletariat, the
former implies that the potential universal class puts
democracy into effect when, on the universal realisation
throughout its rank~ that it is the potential universal
class, it puts an end to capitalist social relations by its
own concerted and unanimous self-activity. By contrast,
the latter horn of the dilemma leads to the view that the
consciousness of the proletariat wiJJ never spontaneously
rise to the point where it wllJ act as a totality to grasp
its inheritance – it must rather be led by those whose
scientific grasp of the democratic objective of the class
obviates the need to arrive at it by any overtly democratic
procedure. This is because individuals are seen not only’

to be constituted as moral subjects by their incorporation
within a pre-given sphere of consent and obligation, and so
dependent upon it for the very possibility of their own
rational autonomy as moral subjects, but also to be bound
into it by relations of interdependence which, far from
having been decided upon by some process of ‘discursive
wiJJ formation’, have to be accepted as a social given ‘definite relations which are independent of their will’.

Although this is Marx’s phrase, the dilemma this poses
for Marxist perspectives is particularly acute. For class
relations are seen both as the prospective motor’ of
emancipatory social change and as the principle of stasis
of the social system. One response, reflecting the
dominance of the former aspect, is to relegate the spheres
of ideology and the actual practice of politics to the
position of a sort of epiphenomenon of systemic processes.

The other i~ to seek grounds for optimism in pointers
towards tendencies of the system to self-destruct,
allowing a ‘window of opportunity’ for autonomous moral
subjects to throw off their social shackles and to gain
control of the runaway train that the system has become.

The notion of democracy itself loses its substance
within both positions sketched above. For those who see
actual political practice as a mere epiphenomenon of the
interplay of components of the system, the manner in
which a decision was reached by any given organisation is
irrelevant to the outcome of the clash of class forces in
which it is engaged. For those waiting for the ‘window of
opportunity’, democracy in a real sense will only flower
once that window opens on the new dawn of mass
mobilisation. The possibility of discovering ‘actually
existing democracy’ is not helped when our contractarian
heritage persuades us to look for a solution in the wrong
direction – towards formal, universalistic principles of
democracy (of ‘discursive wlll formation’), applicable
irrespective of the content of the democratic decision. (As
though a policy of ‘racial purity’, for instance, could be
democratically decided upon, when, I would contend, the
content in this case is antithetical to democracy as such.)
So we ask, in the abstract, how the pursuit of any
(unspecified) goal could be collective, yet preserve the
pre-given autonomy of the individuals who pursue it. We
are then led inexorably back to the absurdity of unanimous
direct democracy as the only model which could fully
respect the auton0′!ly of the individual. (This sounds like
radical anarchism but, given the unlikelihood of unanimity

on any particular issue, it leads easlly to unanimity on one
general issue – to maximise the freedom of each individual
to pursue his/her own goals, i.e., market llberallsm.}
This is a profound problem for democratic theory.

Without a substantive notion of collective rational
autonomy it is impossible to account for the moral as
opposed to the procedural force of a majority decision.

Democratic centralists constr,ue its force as absolute, like
that of the General Will, whlle romantic individualists
render it null and void – you answer only to your
conscience. Both empty all content from the notion of a
voluntary association with a political cause, requiring
moral discipline from its adherents. Democratic
centralists believe they are morally entitled not to
alJow ‘dissidents’ a view which differs from the analogue
of the General Wlll. For romantic individualists, on the
other hand nothing extraneous to the individual, be it a
person or a majority, is moralJy entitled to any command
over that individual’s conscience. In other words, either
the Party is your conscience, or the Party is no more than
the contingent alignment of individual sentiments, and not
itself the focus for any obligation individuals did not
already have. The analogy is of the 10yaJty of a soldier
contrasted to support for a charity.

Liberal pluralist considerations regarding democracy,
concerned with ‘society as whole’, from which you cannot
opt out, do nothing to solve this problem. They do not
apply to voluntary associations with political purposes
because they trade on the involuntary character of your
‘membership’ of society. Moreover the backing democracy
gets from Utilitarianism or from Rawls’s ‘original
position’ rests on prudential and not on moral grounds.

You cannot opt out, so you insure against the possibility of
at some time being in a minority and/or at a disadvantage
by agreeing on global principles to acknowledge but limit
the rights of the majority and/or the fortunate. So Mlll’s
principle of liberty can be seen as such an insurance, in”
everyone’s long-term interest, to preserve as much as
possible of one’s freedom on finding oneself in a minority
over some issue. Prudence in Rawls, on the other hand, is
universalised by the expedient of hypothetical ignorance
of your lot – so alJ wlll agree to there being no ‘dirty end
of the stick’ in society, for fear of getting it themselves.

Such accounts of democracy are thus unable to explain its
moral force in voluntary associations such as political

‘Democratic Causes’ Characterisation

a Preliminary

I would contend thCt, the moral force of democracy within
an organisation derives not from abstract principle but
from the moral rightness of concrete political objectives
which are, in their very nature, necessarily collective in
character i.e. components of a substantive ethical
universal. So the objective to which you are committed is,
in your judgement, moralJy right: it is an objective which
can only be achieved collectively: it has as its aim a right
which can only be exercised collectively, and the
organisation engaged in pursuing that objective, to which
you belong, is the only organisation to which anyone
hoping to work for that objective could feasibly commit
their efforts. Your commitment to the objective of the
organisation would therefore keep you in it even if
majority decisions within it went against you, for there is
nowhere else to go to pursue these objectives.

These are democratic causes – the ‘democracy’ which
characterises them is neither the mere procedural
protection of the individual’s autonomy, nor the wholesale
alienation of the individual’s powers of normative decision
to the superior ethic of the party line. Working for
associations such as political parties, trade unions, etc. is
voluntary but not optional – they are not charities, and
involvement in them is not an ‘ultra-obligation’. Members
of a voluntary association pursuing a ‘democratic cause’

are in this position: as a party to a collective decision,

where you fall to win the vote, you have a duty not to
betray the cause, but to give the same loyalty you would
have demanded of the minority had you been on the winning
side. This is not an absolute duty, however, as democratic
centralists suppose, for the decision could be so wrong
that you must resign, or even actively denounce it; and you
are certainly not morally debarred from continuing,
within the organisation, to seek to win it over to your
view. By the same token, you, and its other members, do
not merely belong to such an organisation just for so long
as you are in complete agreement with all that it does following no other duty than to your own conscience.

Equally, however, you and its other members are not
bound to stick with that organisation no matter what it
does, in contrast to the sentiment ‘My country, right or
wrong!’ which a soldier might be encouraged to believe.

This moral framework derives from two interlinked
features of a ‘democratic cause’: the first is that, in
pursuing such a cause, instrumental and moral
considerations are logically inseparable because they are
mutually necessary; and the second, connected reason is
tha t the goals of such a cause are not goals to which an
individual can subscribe in inter-personal moral action they are not just shared individual goals, they are goals
which only ~ colJectivity can have, and on which it must
agree. Within such organisation some at least of the
components of Hegel’s synthesis are put back together.

‘Discursive wlll formation’ is not an abstract be all and
end all, but is directed towards and conditioned by the
objective of changing the other moment of social
agreement, namely the integration of the social system
which forms us as moral subjects. At the same time, the
autonomy of the io~fividual is neither wholly
unconditioned and de-coupled from both ethical
universality and reason, nor is it wholly subservient to the
dictates of a self-styled (but, for that reason, certainly
bogus) actualisation of ethical universality – rather the
aim of the individual’s agreeing to work together is to
work towards actualising some part of the ethically

This implies that such goals are to be achieved only
when society, to some measu,re, changes its social
relations (ultimately of production). It moreover impJies
that the nature of the objectives of democratic causes socialist poJitical parties, trade unions, feminist, antiracist, environmental, etc. movements cohere (or ought to
cohere), to the extent that the means by which,
instrumentally, they are pursued, are logically of a piece
with the collective moral outcomes they seek to
establish. This is ‘the method of political practice by
which collective rational autonomy is produced’ (above) i.e. how collective rational goals are autonomously
pursued. Means and ends must interpenetrate here, in
order that particular wills canbe re-coupled with
universality, and hence with reason, in the pursuit of
colJective objectives. Human moral freedom is vitiated if
there are no rational ends to choose, whlle rational ends
can only be the ends of rational action if they are chosen,
not compelled.

–There may well be a minority who may have to be
forced to comply with such changes in social relations,
but the collective objective of a democratic cause can
only be realised when the majority freely agree with it,
and autonomously participate in its implementation. The
way in which a society does this is part of what l!. is – it is
not just procedural propriety, nor merely ‘distributive
justice’, though they are part of it, because it concerns
personal relations as much as the conduct of formal
organisations and the distribution of consumables.

All this, you may say, is trite. But it is not false, and
my overall point is that, in order to go beyond thesetruisms towards more adequately theorised notions of
‘socialist democracy’, ‘the alliance of progressive forces’,
of the left even, requires more than the recommendation
of a ‘retrieval’ of what are undoubtedly ‘bourgeois’ values


proletariat’ (defined in terms of cloth cap wearing,
surplus value extraction or the llke) neglecting the
polltical role Marx allocated to that class, namely to
actualise ethical universallty. This has led some to
absurd refusals to recognise progressive organisations
staring them in the face; but it has also led others into
plurallst alliances of all the groups old Stallnists and/or
rightwing Labourites do not like, under the illusion that
incurring the hostility of political dinosaurs suffices for a
group to be ‘progressive’.

The adversary of the alliance of democratic causes all the groups within the sphere of yet to be actuallsed
ethical universality – is the totality of the social
relations of production of capitalism – civil society and
the state – within which ethical universality cannot be
actuallsed. What we need is a dialectical perspective in
which the two moments are the democratisation of
organisations within the state and the organisation of
democracy within civil society. This is not to disparage
those ‘bourgeois values’ on which our civil liberties rest especially not at a time when these are seriously
threatened. Rather, it is to recognise that, in modern
societies, the critical areas of normative decision require
collective action, not merely the opportunity to voice
dissent. The ‘dissident’, who proclaims what we ought to
do without addressing the problem of how we can – how we
organise to bring it about – is all too quickly shuted down
that path of moral exasperation which leads to contempt
for the mass of humanity and the nihlllsm either of apathy
or of terror.

through the strengthening of civil society against the
state. I have already suggested that, whatever the
state/civil society distinction means today, it does not
exhaustively divide society into two spheres. Marx saw
the proletariat as debarred from both state and civil
society. Separated from both as the sole actor in the
sphere of the potential bringing into being of ethical
universality, it was given no name. It is their belonging
within this sphere which unites progressive movements democratic causes – into a coherent totality (one,
however, which is bound to contain differentiated parts
and is not going to be exhausted by a single organisation though it is not pluralistic in the sense established in the
‘democratic pluralism’ of Mill and Rawls). Membership
of this sphere is not going to be determined in some
essentialist fashion – the form of political practice is no
less important than the avowed (maybe only ostensible)

The concrete contents of this sphere are not, of course,
simply proletarian people – class members – but the
specific causes which, by coJlectively contending against
both state and civil society, advance the actualisation of
ethical universality in human social life. (Not all may do
both, but it is as important to fight against private
medicine in civil society as it is to oppose state nuclear
bureaucracies.) This may be a ‘broad church’, but it is not
pluralist. The boundaries between what is and what is riOt
a ‘progressive cause’ have become blurred in recent years.

Some old-style socialists have identified the scope of
what is progressive with interests llmited to some ‘actual

All references are in the text. I have referred to the following works by
their initials after the first citation:

page numbers for both from: Early Writings, Penguin Marx Library, 1975.

Macmillan, 1982.

CWF – The Civil War in France
p~ige numbers from-The-First International and After, Penguin Marx
LIbrary, 1975





Critical Debates, J. B. Thompson and D. Held (eds.),

– Legitimation Crisis, J. Habermas, Heinemann, 1976.

– The Philosophy
Press, 1967


Right, Uegel, trans. T. M. Knox, Oxford University

SC – The Social Contract, Rousseau


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September 1986, 09 1654602, 136pps, £12.95 cased.

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