Is it now a progressive attitude to be libertarian?
Left and Libertarian?
The left, both as a party and as a social trend, is currently in poor shape. The reason why some people who have been involved in the PDS for years quarrel with their party is also due to the fact that the disregard for individual self-realization and emancipation claims in the “left” has become more and more socially acceptable - and that doubt and contradiction are not welcome in the new, united party.
When dissidence and differentiation can no longer be tolerated within the party, when arguments such as “What use is universal suffrage and freedom of expression to an AIDS-sick black in the south?”, Then pain thresholds are exceeded. Pain thresholds, which for many people who were previously involved in the PDS, developed from the bitter experience of the "reinvention" after 1989/90 and the associated dispute about the remaining legacy. In the new “left”, the reconsideration or return to “the collective”, “the masses” and their equality seem to be successful, and some believe that one can confidently leave the concept of freedom and individuality to “the others”.
This condescension towards individualism and individual liberties is an ugly left tradition. It sounds something like this: The liberal achievements of bourgeois society are to a certain extent a facade that makes the system of rule palatable to the oppressed in order to distract them from their “actual” collective mission. In short, they are merely “civil” freedom, while what is essential, true, desirable must go beyond that - namely, beyond “capitalism”. Obstinacy and “decadence” therefore mean to have fallen for the sinister strategy of thwarting dark powers against the general liberation of the masses, who betray collective interests, to have withdrawn to their own small, private happiness.
So why does the left - and especially the party “Die Linke” - have a problem with individual freedom? “Stubbornness and upright gait”, that is, individuality and individualism, were actually always strengths of the left. This can be proven in many biographies. Let us think of Peter Weiss ’" Aesthetics of Resistance ", which impressively describes how a person tries to find his own way despite being thrown into structured and structuring relationships.
And Karl Marx, too, was stubborn, if not downright weird and cranky, like hardly any other leftist of his time. Equipped with a fascinating ability for analytical penetration and criticism of the prevailing conditions, he hurled contentiously coarse rays of spell at anyone who dared to cast his point of view into doubt. His lifestyle was downright extravagant; Today we would at least describe some of the priorities in his everyday life as at least exceptional. Marx was an exile filled with passion from the political disputes of his time, constantly plagued by financial difficulties and illness, with pleasure in jokes, intimately and in love with his family, a friend of carousing, coarse words and mischievous actions. And he was a brilliant thinker.
The existence of headstrong and headstrong personalities was a prerequisite for the organization, creativity and assertiveness of the left as a whole. One can take this as an indication that the political left has anything but quarrel with individual freedom, even with the occupation of free spaces in society.
The tragedy is followed by the farce
But in reality, of course, things are more tricky. Because everyone knows the “other” side of the same left, the one that struggles with individualism and stubbornness. In any case, the love of life and the ascetic ideal were often strangely contradicting each other in left-wing myths. This was encouraged by a philosophy of history and an anthropology that can already be gleaned from Marx, and which claim to have a special knowledge of the ideal forms of human life. The "end of history" formulated therein was the overturning of all conditions of oppression. Aware of its certain victory at some point, a movement with this aim could use every conceivable means to bring about the “dawn of the human race”.
The discussion about the right means, about the "how" of this salvation, was problematic. It led to many processes of division and negative excesses of left ideologies, including violence fetish, catharsis fantasies, self-flagellation rituals and revolutionary revival masses. Ultimately, however, this world of ideas has been in decline for years, if not decades, and its progressive contributions to the present are kept within narrow limits.
A basic dogmatic set of ideas that pastes left thinking has, however, proven to be quite persistent far beyond the core of the dogmatic left. It also lies as a shadow over today's discourses: the longing for a fundamental break with the existing conditions led to its fundamental negation. According to this, individual rights of freedom are only the facade of decaying capitalism, rhetoric for mass integration. Wherever there is planing, chips fall, wherever something new is to be created, the old must be thoroughly eliminated. Progress in emancipation without a fundamental break is therefore not to be expected and also not possible - there is nothing good as long as the basic evil itself, capitalism, has not been removed. Therefore - of course - there can be no demands on a fulfilled life in the here and now.
Conversely, this means that capitalism must necessarily be drawn in its blackest colors. The masses are supposed to be outraged, to achieve spontaneous awareness-raising and mass organization, to organize society from scratch and free of repression. This then results in the aforementioned distrust of “individualism” and “civic decadence”. People prefer to speak of “we” rather than “me”, emphasizing class unity and vigilance.
This description must not conceal the temporary fascination and effectiveness of this ideology even among the republican bourgeoisie. Because the left formulation of goals was in principle liberal and humanistic, even an invitation to individualism and stubbornness. This is one of the reasons why many personalities from science, art and culture felt drawn to this movement again and again and influenced it, not infrequently with extremely innovative and progressive contributions. Quite a few of them, however, were again cast out by the left, in a sense "excommunicated".
In addition, since 1989/90 at the latest, the left social perspective has lost all persuasive power. Because the conditions are not like that. The comparatively clear class situation of the first great capitalist heyday had long been replaced by the Fordist arrangement. The existing temporary “system alternative” - regardless of whether it was positive or negative - perished due to its own contradictions. And in the “fun society”, any fundamental will to change apparently drowns in indifference and lethargy of movement.
The tragedy was followed by the farce. What was left of the mobilization power was at best enough for a “left-wing depression” or as a rhetorical cloak for left-wing Protestantism and populism. The hope that all bad things may be over with one big bang and everything better is still good for ideological appropriation or self-assurance. It has little to do with lust for life, obstinacy and self-centeredness, and not even with real intervention. Rather, it seems strangely “retro”, simulated, confused, old-fashioned, “from yesterday” - like a self-assurance without being able to connect to the social diversity of concrete interests and contradictions. In short: it no longer “fits”.
But also the undogmatic left, which paradigmatically broke with the puritanical wing and always upheld the love of life, got a problem in the wake of 1989/90 at the latest. The collective and at the same time individualistic call for the “beautiful life”, the development of an idiosyncratic, pleasure-oriented lifestyle - in the 1960s this was provocation, rebellion, rebellion against the circumstances, and consequently political stance and political action with emancipatory content. “Get the beautiful life - now and here!”, In the consciousness of the actors involved, that was the immediate fulfillment of the bourgeois promise of freedom and happiness to the philistine bourgeoisie. That was left per se, an alternative attitude towards life and a maxim of political emancipation at the same time: Away with the restrictive norms of everyday life - from work to intimate life!
The undogmatic left has triumphed to death
Today, however, the uninhibited satisfaction of one's own needs and instincts is a generalized attitude towards life and a generalized lifestyle, in all the diversity that is conceivable and regularly associated with all conceivable depressions. Liberalization and differentiation of the culture of life and capitalist society reproduction were not incompatible, but found their very ambivalent symbiosis in the post-Fordist modernization push.
The undogmatic left has virtually triumphed to death. Today, the call for the “beautiful life” is no longer associated with a specific political stance, but above all with the social, cultural and economic reproduction of the status quo. Even right orientations can easily be reconciled with an "enjoyable" life. Today you can be (almost) exactly with the "lesbians and gays in the Union", live openly and yet quite freely as a homo and still advertise for "Pro Reli", find capitalism just as fragrant as the Pope. And you can choose “green”, buy organic, welcome the comprehensive deregulation of the markets with an “eco-friendly face”, indulge in a “somewhat leftist” attitude to life and live well protected by your own financial investment policy.
Today you have to do "your thing", find your own way, that is: orientate yourself in the complicated, abstract world to the prevailing codes and find your way around - which demands a certain amount of dressing and social adjustment from the subjects in order to individually find a beautiful one Organize life. In short: It is simply no longer enough to be lusty and individualistic in order to be “left”. Almost everyone is like that by now.
The permanent provocation and the playful breaking of conventions and norms have themselves become social conventions and norms. Even the conservative right now masters this keyboard skillfully - and in any case more effectively than the left. And last but not least, the epigones of neoliberalism are incessantly singing the song of praise for individualism, praising the market for life plans. Logically, some of the once undogmatic leftists have meanwhile diffused into the social mainstream and make good capital out of the autonomously fought for free spaces and resistant impulses. They won't be really happy with it. But it could also be a lot worse for them. And they are still “somehow left” in their identity.
The diffusion of the working class and the end of utopia
But what drove Marx for example - the general promise of emancipation of the bourgeoisie, articulated in the Enlightenment and in the programs of the democratic revolutions - is still not off the table. The emancipation of the individual remains unfulfilled as long as social emancipation does not include everyone.
So what remains are the contradictions resulting from the social condition. However, they do not appear as abstract class contradictions, but go through the individuals themselves - in postmodern capitalism more than ever. For many people, the lived life is not a fulfilled life, as the rebels had hoped for at the time. For many, the increasing reification of social relationships is associated with the vague feeling that the postmodern present “is not really it”. The colonization of the individual worlds through bureaucratism and economism is perceived as an immoral tendency, especially since the downsides of recent social developments are now becoming more apparent. Existential fears curb the hunger for happiness and let the limits of individual freedom become visible in material need, social discipline and inner armament empty the daily promise of freedom and happiness in everyday life, for all dimensions of human everyday life, for creativity, spiritual fulfillment, social security the unmistakable standard of market requirements. One could say that the socialization of the “beautiful life” is missing.
But this is exactly where the central problem of left-wing discourses and the formation of strategies lies: They would have to take note of these “complications” and question some of the analysis schemes and ritualized tools that have become dear to the world, perhaps even throw them overboard. That means nothing more and nothing less than a partial reinvention based on a necessary step towards reality.
In the 19th century, socialism - as a political ideology - derived its strength primarily from the fact that its categories and its narrative were plausible against the background of everyday experiences. Marx's analysis tied in with the reality of life in the proletariat just as much as his strategic setting up of conflicts in the central class struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie corresponded to the injustices and contradictions that were felt in society. Terms such as “exploitation” or “class” in Marx's work did not only fulfill the function of analytical categories. They were always also "awareness-raising", political categories, moral indictment: the working class as an oppressed collective; working life as a life belonging to someone other than the worker. The working class should fight for its emancipation from the yoke of the capital relation and for the general emancipation of society.
Success in the class struggle required above all solidarity among the members of the class. Solidarity can only exist where the same (or similar) interests also become a common interest. That required their formulation and articulation, i.e. forms of collective action. The theory helped to create these forms: political, workers' music, consumer, sport and leisure clubs, trade unions, social works, cooperatives and parties. The feeling of togetherness was based not least on a jointly felt material situation and the appropriate class consciousness, the narration of the socialist promise of emancipation with the historical mission of the proletariat - and on the real experience that together we can actually get more out of it. Especially if the revolution can be thought of as a historical possibility, if it is a threat to the bourgeoisie. The elites of the nation states in the capitalist centers actually feared the working class for decades - its myth and its social reality.
This point, the formulation of common interests on the basis of common interests, the constitution as a collective subject of action, is by no means trivial. Capitalists also have the same interest: profit maximization. However, this equality of interests does not result in solidarity, but in competition, its form of communication is reified - which does not mean that there was not and still is a negative, demarcating solidarity of the elites with "those down there". It is also noticeable in the current disputes, even capable of hegemony, and today comes in the guise of the set pieces of neoliberalism and neoconservatism.
But what happens when changes in the accumulation regime and in the political form of capitalism result in such internal differentiations in the class structures that class membership is no longer “experienced” together and, above all, is no longer lived together? When the differentiation of ideas about life, life situations and lifestyles no longer enables a common subject formation, no collective political articulation? Then what was still a unity in Marx disintegrates: “class” as a concept of social analysis, but also “class” as a political-sociological category, as a bearer of political interest identity, as “collective consciousness” and as a frame of reference for tangible solidarity. Then the historical subject on which the left's trust in the future is based collapses.
Where can you find expressive collective protest against the situation today? The major protest movements of the 1980s, the peace movement, the environmental movement, the women's movement - they hardly exist today as mass movements. What is there are leftovers and decay products from that time, which are peacefully joining the dwindling unionized workforce that is left over from the great class struggles of the past century.
In this landscape without great utopia, without powerful protest movements, an attitude has been established that is clarified. She can no longer do anything with the “big stories”. She has found her way around the plural of language games, discourses, interpretations and ways of life. This attitude holds the small promise ready: For each and every one there is an allotment of the modest, free realization of their own life plan. Realistically speaking, this contradiction in a wider social breadth, "cracking", "generalizable", hegemonic forms of articulation, organization and action with an emancipatory claim are currently not in sight.
Is this a declaration of surrender, a rejection of the claim to change society, of a left in general? No, absolutely not.
Rather, it is the statement that many an ideological compass of the past must be scrapped if the left wants to go on the offensive. That the question of the alternative “collectivity” or “individuality” is wrongly posed, because the breaks no longer exist only between classes, but also within the individuals themselves. And that there is no longer a “big blueprint” for the course of the world that describes the ideal form of human coexistence, offers clear ideological orientation and social support.
To descend from the heaven of ideology into the depths of the conditions
And yet it remains true: in our postmodern world things are not right. The vocabulary of discourse pluralism sounds sympathetic: no one should hurt the other; you can pretty much act out anything you can think of. However, the price of the postmodern ideology of the unideological is very high: Enlightenment and emancipation, the hope for a reasonable shaping of social living conditions, are considered lofty dreams of a reason that historically has turned out to be the nightmare of totalitarianism and terror.
And if, for a change, we descend from the heaven of ideology into the depths of the conditions themselves, we realize that the price of this culture is paid by all those who are excluded from participation in education, cultural techniques, etc. due to their social origin. Because there is no variety of forms of life for those outcasts from the capitalist exploitation process. And with this, the continued existence of class society becomes particularly drastically visible based on the life situation of the marginalized. They seem to confirm the diagnosis of the "end of the great stories". Apparently the excluded have little or no energy to work together to improve their situation.
We can hardly overlook the real progress in emancipation of post-Fordist capitalism, which can be booked for all kinds of people: the compulsive notions of "normality" have lost their persuasiveness, which also opens up the possibility of changing social institutions. Sexism, racism and xenophobia are still part of everyday ideological business, but fortunately they are pushed into a defensive position. Modernization brought forth new, also progressive, forms of social morality and aesthetics that rub against (life) reality. We shouldn't disregard any of this; rather, we must actually be aware of it. Because, if at all, these contradictions and the permanent “search movements” that follow from them are the seeds of radical social criticism and change.
We must notice that the negative solidarity of the elites, the morally tinged conservative and ordoliberal fundamental criticism of individualism and the “decay of values” - consequences of flexible capitalism - are directed against nothing other than its emancipatory gains in freedom. Countering this is the task of the left. The defensive left simply denies the real successes in emancipation. However, it is not the progress in emancipation that is to be downplayed, but one has to attack the mentality that says that more is not possible. An appropriate social criticism does not have to make statements about ideal forms of human coexistence if it wants to establish that certain social practices have to be turned off or pushed back because they destroy existing self-determination and destroy spaces for emancipation. The arena of this debate is especially the economy, the criticism is aimed at total economism. But the subject of modern left social criticism no longer consists in future certainties; their topic is heteronomy.
What worries me is the widespread social absence of the thought that the individual's right to be spared the unreasonable demands of a culture of ruthlessness, and the individual's ability to develop freely, depend crucially on how a society is organized. Freedom is not primarily the freedom to any individual recklessness. Rather, freedom is, on the one hand, the opportunity for many individuals to realize their own particular plans for a good life; On the other hand, freedom is also the ability of a political system to provide these spaces of personal freedom, to protect them and to enable the control of social developments also through the formation of political will by social majorities. Freedom means the autonomy of the person and the state-based society of social beings. The prevailing discourse, on the other hand, reduces the concept of freedom to the shrinking stage of an ideologized hedonistic individualism; it reflects the real successes of emancipation in a misleading paradigm. Incidentally, it is curious how much the pessimistic patterns on “the left” and “the right” are similar - both operate according to the motto: Even the smallest thinking and acting in alternatives is pointless!
It should actually be the basic concern of the left to make the plan to want to change the world strong in the social arena. To do this, however, it has to emancipate itself from parts of its own identity. She has to get rid of some tendencies that still reside deep within her: the objectivistic influence, the fatalistic conditioning, the downright religious aversion to the world, the certainty mantra and the suppression of reality, the self-centeredness, self-sufficiency and widespread laziness, the sometimes cynical indifference to the consequences of the social modernization with its simultaneous propaganda instrumentalization, the self-destructive pleasure in emphasizing the difference instead of the search for commonalities with others, the aversion to moral driving forces and behaviors, but also to crazy ideas and spleens.
The latter is not an appeal to volunteer. On the contrary: It is a truism that there is no point in building castles in the air, that there are effective conditioning, ideologies and relationships of domination in our world. But it is just as true that the world does not move according to predetermined patterns, but is reproduced in concrete terms through the more or less reflected actions of individuals in society.
What a new left needs
What such a left needs - even if that may be considered uncool today - is a reorientation towards its original humanistic ethos: human self-realization in equality, freedom and community. Very unpathetic, very practical: With the debate about orientation for human action in society and for a more humane social institution, for reflected action in the concrete dichotomies of our present.
The desire for a better life, that has not changed, is produced by our circumstances. The claim to influence the course of the world - not tomorrow, but now - arises again and again from the social contradictions. And it expresses itself slowly or suddenly, in completely unfamiliar and unimagined forms and activities, is not a monopoly of a class, itself arises from the mainstream and has an impact on society.
This resistant impulse is deeply individualistic, does not always follow noble theories, but is mostly motivated solely by the earthly need not to want to be “governed in such a way” (Foucault). Sometimes it looks for more stable and complex forms, sometimes it expresses itself as a one-point program. This does not abolish capitalism, but it is always different. How and with what result we will see later. Search, doubt and inconsistency are among these resistive impulses. And a bag full of unanswered questions.
Such a process will still take a lot of obstinacy, a lot of curiosity, creativity, extravagance, individuality and the joy of discovery. And maybe we'll end up back where I started: with the many stubborn leftists who have always existed in the history of progressive movements and who have largely identified and managed them. Because without dissidence, doubt, obstinacy, contradiction, there cannot be “the left”. We are again with the many very different attempts of individuals to find their own way despite being thrown into structured and structuring relationships and to do something for autonomy and self-realization. And thus also with the realization that the world only changes in a certain direction when people freely and consciously decide to do something for it, because no laws of movement of society and no secret forces will relieve them of their actions.
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