The break-up of the Soviet bloc and the breakdown of the
consensus about Western welfare capitalism have, each in their
turn, prompted debates about the alignments that can be drawn
between various forms of marxism and contemporary political
standpoints. This issue of Radical Philosophy focuses on these
debates as they have emerged from both East and West European
perspectives. The East European perspective is represented, in
this case, by Slavoj Zizek’s article Why Should A Dialectician
Learn To Count To Four? , and in an interview between Zizek and
his colleague, Renata Salecl, and members of the Radical Philosophy Editorial Collective. Tony Skillen’s Active Citizenship
as Political Obligation and the reply Community as Compulsion?
by Gregory Elliot and Peter Osborne, consider what should be the
Left’s response to the declining commitment to state welfare
provision in Western market economies.
Finally, we include two review articles in this issue. Andrew
Bowie offers an assessment of Manfred Frank’s reevaluation of
early-Romantic aesthetics, and Sean Sayers examines Andre
Gorz’s latest arguments about the future of the work ethic.
In Why ShouldA Dialectician Learn To Count To Four? ,Slavoj
Zizek offers a reading of the Hegelian dialectic which reinstates
a moment of indeterminacy in the movement from cognition to its
negation, a moment Zizek describes, following Frederic 1ameson,
as ‘the vanishing mediator’. Zizek’s project is to go beyond
‘exasperating abstract reflections on “dialectical method'” in
order to theorise concrete historical moments from the point of
departure of this ‘vanishing mediator’. Using Protestantism and
lacobinism as historically specific examples, Zizek argues that
these represent moments of ‘excess’ which are at the same time
realisations at the level of form of already constituted practices.
These are moments when ‘ideology takes itself literally’, and
Zizek cites the emergence of new social movements in Eastern
Europe as one such moment. These moments which, in retrospect,
are placed within a deterministic account of historical development are, in fact, characterised by openness and contingency.
Interpreted through the lens of Lacanianism, they represent the
emergence of repressed truths which have not yet encountered the
censoring mechanism of reality.
In the interview ‘Lacan in Slovenia’, Peter Osborne and Peter
Dews question Zizek and Salecl about current political developments in Yugoslavia, their support of the Slovenian Liberal Party,
and the connections they make between their theoretical and
Tony Skillen shares Zizek’s concerns about the powers of
entrenched local and state bureaucracies, but believes that the
pluralist definition of rights as freedom from compulsion leads to
a situation, particularly in regard to the provision of welfare in
Western market economies, where the welfare state ‘leaves us
free to neglect each other while it makes a mess of caring for us’ .
Against conservative (and, in Skillen’s view, elitist) ideas that
volunteers should be encouraged to form the core of an ‘active
citizenry’, Skillen proposes what he describes as ‘a pacific version’ of community service. With proper safeguards and some
(non-wage) form of financial recognition, he believes a sense of
‘active citizenship’ could be developed which would extend
collective participation in community affairs.
Radical Philosophy 58, Summer 1991
In their reply to Skillen, Gregory Elliot and Peter Osborne
point to the authoritarian implications of ‘enforced citizenship’,
and suggest that an historically informed assessment of ‘active
citizenship’ would reveal it to be part of the New Right’s assault
on welfare provision. Furthermore, they suggest that the tension
between state welfare schemes and capitalist economic principles
was inscribed in the post-war settlement. They argue that T.H.
Marshall, the architect of the idea of citizenship, accepted this
tension as the inevitable consequence of any attempt to socialise
citizenship while leaving the privatised nature of the economic
infrastructure unchallenged and unchanged.
Despite Tony Skillen’s acknowledgement that the provision
of care in the community is a highly gendered activity, with
women, for the most part unpaid, performing the role of carer, the
concept of ‘citizenship’ which informs this debate has not been
subject to the kind of feminist scrutiny which has characterised
Nancy Fraser’s assessment of American systems of welfare
(Nancy Fraser, Unruly Practices: Power, Discourse and Gender
in Contemporary Social Theory, Cambridge, Polity Press, 1989).
Radical Philosophy would welcome further contributions on this
topic, particularly those whigh highlight the gendered nature of
philosophies of welfare provision.
The two review articles we include in this issue consider, in
turn, Andre Gorz’ s view that liberation from work should be a
socialist aim and Manfred Frank’s theorisation of the epistemic
value of art.
In his review of Gorz’s Critique of Economic Reason, Sean
Sayers detects a shift in position. Gorz has now recognised that
work can possess human as well as economic significance.
However, this recognition is tied to a distinction Gorz now makes
between those areas of work which are under the sway of market
rationality, and those which are oriented towards the satisfaction
of needs generated within the ‘private’ sphere of family and child
care. Sayers maintains that this dualism of caring and economic
work is a false one, since it romanticises the former and
underemphasises the human significance of the latter. Any attempt to limit the sphere of the market, in order to preserve a
private enclave in which human qualities can flourish, is characteristic of liberal individualism. This must be sharply distinguished from a socialist project, according to Sayers, because that
project seeks not to limit but to socialise economic production.
The Romantics’ belief in the privileged epistemological status
of art is given a philosophical reassessment by Manfred Frank in
his book Einfiiring in die friihromantische Asthetik. As Andrew
Bowie’s careful review points out, Frank’s arguments have a
wider relevance in that they’ shed new light on the increasingly
arid debate about relativism’. For Frank, the transformative
nature of artistic production provides a precarious but necessary
grounding for the claim that a unified consciousness of self is
possible. However, as Bowie cautions, the distance between this
ideal and most contemporary manifestations of art should lead us
to reflect on why it is that the dominant Western philosophical
tradition has abandoned all hope of epistemological certainty.