The Permanence of the Political

The Permanence of the Political: A Democratic Critique of the Radical Impulse to Transcend Politics

JOSEPH M. SCHWARTZ
Copyright Date: 1995
Pages: 352
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7s165
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    The Permanence of the Political
    Book Description:

    Why have radical political theorists, whose thinking inspired mass movements for democracy, been so suspicious of political plurality? According to Joseph Schwartz, their doubts were involved with an effort to transcend politics. Mistakenly equating all social difference with the harmful way in which particular interests dominated marketplace societies, radical thinkers sought a comprehensive set of "true human interests" that would completely abolish political strife. In extensive analyses of Rousseau, Hegel, Marx, Lenin, and Arendt, Schwartz seeks to mediate the radical critique of democratic capitalist societies with the concern for pluralism evidenced in both liberal and postmodern thought. He thus escapes the authoritarian potential of the radical position, while appropriating its more democratic implications.

    In Schwartz's view, a reconstructed radical democratic theory of politics must sustain liberalism's defense of individual rights and social pluralism, while redressing the liberal failure to question structural inequalities. In proposing such a theory, he criticizes communitarianism for its premodern longing for a monolithic, virtuous society, and challenges the "politics of difference" for its failure to question the undemocratic terrain of power on which "difference" is constructed. In conclusion, he maintains that an equitable distribution of power and resources among social groups necessitates not the transcendence of politics but its democratic expansion.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2177-8
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-2)
    Joseph M. Schwartz
  4. CHAPTER 1 Introduction: THE RADICAL IMPULSE TO TRANSCEND POLITICS
    (pp. 3-32)

    This book explores the paradox that radical political theorists, whose work inspired mass movements for democracy, were themselves hostile to the very conditions that give rise to democratic politics—a plurality of social interests and diverse conceptions of the good life. Only the most cynical or conservative students of history would deny that the popular ideological versions of radical thought, particularly Rousseau’s ideal of a self-sovereign people and Marx’s conception of democratic control over social life, informed the moral and political vision of nineteenth- and twentieth-century democratic mass movements, as well as populist, nondemocratic variants thereof. But radical theorists, rather...

  5. CHAPTER 2 The Threat of Interests to the General Will: ROUSSEAU’S CRITIQUE OF PARTICULARISM
    (pp. 33-69)

    Rousseau’s hostility to politics centers on his aversion to the competitive, particular interests of the emerging marketplace societies of the eighteenth century. Whereas his defense of equality primarily involves a critique of the injustices of status-based, monarchical regimes, Rousseau also criticized the inclination of the emerging interest groups of commercial society to treat politics as an instrumental means for advancing their interests at the expense of the common good. Such awareness led Rousseau to reject the liberal conception of the social contract as universal adherence to those minimally necessary sovereign laws that enable individuals to pursue their self-interest without violating...

  6. CHAPTER 3 The Hegelian State: MEDIATING AWAY THE POLITICAL
    (pp. 70-103)

    Including Hegel in a work on the radical tradition’s hostility to politics may at first seem anomalous, because Hegel’s operative politics can best be described as asui generisform of corporatist conservatism. Far from being a radical democrat, Hegel defended the “rationality” of conservative but modernizing Napoleonic and Prussian bureaucracies. In a slightly more liberal guise, he advocated moderate reforms in the British constitution, primarily aimed at mitigating class conflict.¹ But simply dismissing Hegel as a political conservative ignores the profound influence of his epistemological and historicist critique of liberal individualism on both the Marxist tradition and contemporary radical...

  7. CHAPTER 4 The Origins of Marx’s Hostility to Politics: THE DEVALUATION OF RIGHTS AND JUSTICE
    (pp. 104-145)

    Throughout his work Karl Marx chided utopian socialists for developing extensive blueprints of a future socialist society. In contrast he held that the primary role of the socialist theorist should be to analyze the laws of motion of capitalist society and the socialist society pregnant within capitalism. Marx’s hostility to speculation about the postrevolutionary institutional and political organization of socialism is not, however, solely a product of his materialist opposition to idealist philosophy. It also derives from his faith that “full communism” would be a classless, conflict-free society that transcends scarcity and thus the need for political and juridical institutions....

  8. CHAPTER 5 Lenin (and Marx) on the Sciences of Consciousness and Production: THE ABOLITION OF POLITICAL JUDGMENT
    (pp. 146-188)

    Because Lenin has been canonized, both by his critics and followers, as a supreme political tactician, it would appear counterintuitive to think that he shared the radical tradition’s desire to transcend politics. Even such an orthodox Marxist as Trotsky—not given to great-men theories of history—cited Lenin’s skills as a political tactician as the crucial cause of the success of the October revolution.¹ And the primacy Lenin gave to the maintenance of Bolshevik political power facilitated his pragmatic abandonment of orthodoxy on such issues as building socialism in a less developed nation, and the transition from war communism to...

  9. CHAPTER 6 Hannah Arendt’s Politics of “Action”: THE ELUSIVE SEARCH FOR POLITICAL SUBSTANCE
    (pp. 189-216)

    There exists one school of contemporary political thought which shares the radical tradition’s hostility to liberal interest-group politics but which claims to break with the radical tradition by asserting the “virtue” of the political. The stated goal of these theorists of the contemporary “communitarian” and “civic republican” schools is not to transcend politics but to revitalize it by making political discourse central to the self-education of a moral community. These political theorists (Hannah Arendt, Alasdair MacIntyre, J.G.A. Pocock, Michael Sandel, Benjamin Barber, and Sheldon Wolin among others¹) often praise the politics of the ancientpolisas a model of public...

  10. CHAPTER 7 Conclusion: REDRESSING THE RADICAL TRADITION’S ANTIPOLITICAL LEGACY—TOWARD A RADICAL DEMOCRATIC PLURALIST POLITICS
    (pp. 217-250)

    The desire of radical political theorists to eliminate social conflict prevented them from envisioning a democratic conception of politics. Their project aimed to transcend the preconditions of politics—a plurality of social groups, particular communal identities, and divergent social interests. In their search for a harmonious society, they wished to eradicate, or, in Hegel’s case, regulate through bureaucratic management, the particular communities and social interests through which people develop themselves. The radical critique of rights-based liberalism—that rights promote a divisive social war of all against all—accurately describes a potential function of private property rights in societies where concentrated...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 251-310)
  12. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 311-324)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 325-336)