Alain raised some wonderful points in a comment on the new whigs. He writes:
How does an all pervasive skepticism allow for a common ethos, a way
of being together in a community of shared assumptions and values? How
do we participate in a shared public life if there aren't any shared
standards of what even counts as a valid argument?
To me, this is the crucial question--the question of affiliation, of the possibility of something like solidarity, a commons, a sustainable, equitable mode of being together. (To help with this, I just ordered Derrida's book Rogues because I heard some papers on it while I was in Austin.) Is it possible to have a community of skeptics? I don't think so--skepticism depends on a substrate of commonality. (A friend of mine has been writing well about the insights of Stanley Cavell on this point.)
The American wager was that the Constitution provided a common, revisable, framework for deliberating about and negotiating different assumptions and values. It requires, though, some sort of prior agreement on what counts as a valid argument, on what a reasonable position looks like. Although I am not a big fan of Deleuzian theory, some of my engagements with the emergent democracy folks (as well as theorists like Hardt and Negri and Bill Connolly) make me wonder if the rhizomatic approach is useful. The way I think about it is like a set A through Z. A and B agree, B and C agree, etc so that A and Z don't have to agree. Like a branching bush, a rhizome. This avoids the 'shared' supposition. My hesitancy comes in when I think about large collective goods problems--the environment, housing, work, welfare, migration, industry, finance etc. When these big matters come in, I don't see how the Deleuzian approach can help. So, again, we are left with the question of the possibility of a common life in the absence of even a shared good will or respect. And, these days, this is problem is widespread. I, for example, do not respect Ann Coulter, Bill OReilly, Dick Cheney, Lynn Cheney, Rush Limbaugh, George W. Bush, Barbara Bush, Tom DeLay, Randall Terry, well, you get the idea, the list is long.
... It is not only
the conservative fundamentalist that distrusts "liberal experts." The
left is prone to the same sorts of suspicions. As I was reading your
post, I was reminded of Foucault's demystification of experts in the
fields of medicine, psychology and criminology. Though he takes an
historical approach, I think he goes a long way toward contributing to
the distrust of "the human sciences."
Absolutely. One of the problems with organizing on the left is the rejection of essential claims, totalizing claims, and truth claims as all dogmatic. What I like about Zizek is his willingness to make a strong truth claim. The interesting thing to me about Foucault is that his attention to the way discourses are structured appears within an academic discourse--there are criteria of evidence and reasoning that cannot be avoided. So, one can describe, say, the emergence of the importance of a principle of non contradiction and still find oneself under that principle.
...if democracy is not possible today, I wonder if political
philosophy itself can be practiced. It would seem that both presuppose
some shared sense of experience, a "Phronetic insight" into the
ethical/political appearances as they show themselves today. If not,
perhaps we can imitate theory, produce a copy of what political theory
used to look like.
Is political theory or philosophy possible today? I don't know. Some of us are trying. Machiavelli is interesting because he tries to call into being the collective subject that could be the object of his theoretical enterprise. Ranciere would say that politics is necessarily democratic. I disagree. So, I think that one can try to have political theory for a group smaller than the demos--but this may well be, as Alain suggests, an imitation, a copy (of Marx or Nietzsche or Freud or Adorno) or imitation. This might not be all bad, given that we are in age of copies. Maybe combinations and samples and recombinations of old ideas aren't nothing.
The New Whigs Party ... is a party dedicated not to true Conservatism and the calm phlegmatic realism of industry and vested interests, but to the extremist concept of common sense and religious faith having moral dominion over the established body of science. "It's all rubbish - anyone in their senses can see with their own eyes that Schiavo is alive," this New Whig might say. The only things we can be certain of are those things which we experience through direct sensory perception, all else is a matter of faith, assorted by whatever philosophy one holds, a consumerist version of shopping for truth in which information is slotted neatly into a dogma that no one has the right to take away from us. There is no longer such a thing as an expert, only an opinion-leader for this or that theory. When the expert (some university liberal, no doubt) tells us something we "know" isn't true, we have the right to dismiss the expert - we know more than any quote-unquote expert. This is the rot that has now set in to American political life.
A few years ago, I studied alien abduction as a way to get at this conflict: what happens when discourses present themselves in accordance with discourse rules (law, science, therapy/witnessing) whose official keepers or maintainers view as already excluding them? I was interested in a generalized 'lack' of common sense, in the way that skepticism toward various sorts of authority, particularly that of elites, extends all the way down, the way that they challenge us to face head on the impact of the dissolution of notions of truth, rationality, and credibility on democratic society.
I thought of the project as a critique of Habermasian discourse ethics and thought of it in contrast to political theory's emphasis on competing conceptions of the good. I said that at stake is competing conceptions of the real (not in a lacanian sense).
I still think that facing us today are competing conceptions of the real. But now I think that I dismissed too easily the conflict over competing conceptions of the good. I think that what I missed was the interconnection between ethics and epistemology. And, today, those are intertwined in ways that Europe hasn't seen since, say, the ninth century.
To be sure, all sorts of poststructuralist, critical, race, and feminist critics and as well as scholars of social studies of science and technology have pointed out, quite rightly, that 'we have never been modern,' that there has been an intertwining of epistemology and ethics. Eugenics, for example, was rooted not simply in biology but in accounts of the pure nation that also relied on biology. Reproductive sciences used to rely on accounts of eggs and sperm that reiterated notions of passivity and activity. The very things worthy of knowing as well as the apparatuses of knowledge have emerged within specific state and national contexts.
Nevertheless, in raising these claims, in introducing this knowledge, scholars presuppose a community of thinkers and knowers that value knowledge, that assess evidence, that can tell the difference between claims that are ill or well supported. We don't expect the response to be: well, that's your opinion. We expect challenges to our methods, assumptions, reasoning, and evidence. We expect charges of bias (I think this way because I am a white woman, say), to be backed up with evidence demonstrating that the bias is at work. So, again, there is a general sense of shared expectations, a kind of minimal good faith (this is the basic notion of the Symbolic).
And this is what is missing now. It affects medicine: now a second opinion isn't the only option. One can find out for oneself--and keep looking until one gets an answer one wants. It affect environmental science--pollution, climate change, global warming. It impacts basic data about economics, development, life expectancy, patterns of violence. In sum, we are in a situation where appealing to the facts not only doesn't decide the matter for good old Weberian reasons but because people don't believe that there are facts. There has been a loss of faith in the facts, a loss of faith in reality (the Symbolic).
Under these conditions, are we capable of democracy?
Mark Kaplan's discussions of overidentification help explain why the Democrats are such pathetic losers. The simple reason is that they imagine themselves as losers. They look at themselves from the standpoint of a future in which they have already lost. For example, where were the Democrats during this whole bizarre Schiavo affair (my current favorite image is that Schiavo is one of those human batteries empowering the Matrix and the Matrix is the politico-media-entertainment complex)? Apparently, they didn't want to be too vocal in their opposition out of fear that after she died they would be begged as murderers. But this very notion presumes Republican control of the discussion, of the media, of the spin. It presumes that the charge of being murderers would make sense and it gives up struggling to fight over the terms of the debate. The Democrats thus lose because they don't even bother contesting Republican construction of the discursive political environment in which they operate.
Pathetically, even if Right-wing over-identified Zealots can fragment the current hegemonic formation (I talked about this a couple of days ago in "Radical Conservatives and Democratic Vegetables"), where is the strength, the will, to do the work to recast and revision and redescribe the terms of politics? To reframe the debate or reformat the context?
identification' itself is a kind of
impossible point or optical illusion, in the sense that we seem to have
only incomplete identification or over-identification:
as we approach full identification, this suddenly flips over into
overidentification. Identification - as some median point -
constitutively eludes us in our very attempt to approach it. It is a
spectre floating in front of us or a mirage glimped in arrears. And is
this not because we identify with that which is non-identical with itself?
This is a wonderful passage. The notion of non-identity is crucial. The identification at work in ideological interpellation is symbolic identification: one identifies with a gaze, that is, one sees oneself from the standpoint of this imagined gaze. There is non-identity here at the point of the subject as the object of this gaze (and not the gaze itself). The subject may want to perform for the gaze, to please it; it may also want to rebel against it, contest or. Or it may simply want to be acknowledged by it.
In his next intervention, Mark writes:
 'Ironic distance' functions to unify the group around the object of their irony. Anyone who has worked for a large corporation or company will recognize this: all, equally, make jokes - of cynical commentary, stoic acquiescence - about the company, it's rules and personnel. It's as though a 'collective subject' is thereby produced; and for all its cynical detachment, this 'collective subject' is parasitic upon the company and an effect (and support) of its organization. Needless to say, the bosses frequently 'buy into' this collective irony to get what they want.
One could take any organization, political, religious or whatever. The participants do not take the official ideology seriously, are ironically detached etc, and in their common ironic distantiation, are unified into a collectivity.
[I'm reminded here of the BBC television show 'The Office'--an American version has just started airing in the US.]
Of course, on one reading, it is this very unification which is the function of the ideology. Ideology works at a level 'beneath' - and more subtle than - that of adherence to belief. The 'letter' of the ideological text is beside the point, it is the dummy sold to the adherents, who, in refusing the letter (irony) collectively enter the Spirit of the regime. The 'fanatics', on the other hand, represent the subversion of the spirit by the letter: poker-faced attention to and enactment of the ideological letter runs counter to the geist of the ideological regime, and embarrasses it by demonstrating that it is Other than it claims to be.
 The second point is that the Orders will be implemented more effectively if one does not fully identify with them: 'being ironic' about the orders grants you your small lease of subjective freedom, at the same time as you delegate all responsibility to the impersonal Orders, Directives etc of the Ideological machine. Better to be an instrument imbued with irony, than a fanatical adherent. Better not to 'assume responsibility' - an onerous and potentially psychosis inducing task - but to delegate it to the impersonal machine. And the name for this trick of delegation is irony.
You can have freedom or life, but not both.
They are pretty consistent in this viewpoint, and if they evoke
freedom, you can be sure they are covering up for someone's death, and
if they evoke "life", you can be sure they are trying to take away your
freedoms. ... Freedom is spreading across Iraq" means that the country is littered with corpses. ... You even see the freedom vs. life rhetoric getting whipped out in
the Social Security fiasco, with the Republicans trying to woo black
voters by telling them that they won't live as long as white people, so
they might as well opt for more "choice" with their Social Security
The demonization or Herodization of the law, the language of cruel,
unjust, corrupt courts in rhetoric around the Schiavo case suggests conservative radicalization and a potential crack in the
neo-liberal/neo-conservative alliance. Polls make clear that the majority of Americans
support the right to die with dignity and reject the way the extreme
religious right has politicized this particular family tragedy.
Likewise, federal intervention into a state matter does not sit well
with many political conservatives. Governor Bush's hints that he was
ready to send in state marshals to force the reinsertion of Schiavo's
feeding tube points to a conservative radicalization: controlling the
three branches of government is not enough; now, voices on the right
speak openly of violating the very rule of law.
This strange tension regarding conservative attacks on the very
state institutions their party controls expressed itself in a bizarre
exchange on Scarborough Country last week. Pat Buchanan and another
guest compared the Schiavo case to Nazi extermination of disabled
persons. Buchanan described a specific case in which doctors appealed
to Hitler for permission to put to death a child born with multiple
birth defects. The shocking thing about the analogy is the way that the
Right is comparing their own government to the Third Reich. Although
this was clearly not Buchanan's intent, this what the structure of the
analogy--judges, the government, in the same position as the ruling
Nazi party. We could say that this is the right acknowledging the truth
of republican fascism, that the truth slips out and becomes manifest in
the example. (This is actually what I think.) And, if this is the
case, if segments of the right are uttering the truth of the formation,
then the rest of the right can't let it slide. Neo-liberals need some
kind of cover of credibility, of legitimacy, of being 'in touch with
the mainstream.' It's one thing if the left criticizes republicans as
fascist. It's another thing if the right criticizes the left as
fascist. But it is something else entirely when the right starts to
call itself fascist. My hope is that the more the extreme becomes
visible, the more that radical conservatives over-identify with and literalize their ideological convictions, the more neoliberals will start to balk or resist or reject their conservative allies.
One last example: as is well known, Ann Coulter recently called Alan Colmes a liar to his face while on the show. Now, she has been saying all sorts of nasty things about Democrats and liberals for years. But, that she had crossed a line in the opinion of someone on Fox News isn't nothing. Again, it's like the current ideological formation relies on a sort of distance--like, it's not all that bad, or not really fascist, or just the result of normal democratic politics, or the msm is still basically liberal or whatever sort of excuse you want to me--and, voices within the formation are starting to get ansty about, to reject, the most extreme manifestations of and identifications with that formation.
These are just cracks. But they might make a difference. Unfortunately, the difference they could make depends to a certain extent on the Democratic Party, a party which itself seems to be in a permanent vegetative state, unable even to follow a course of events much less respond to it.
The feeding tube frenzy swirling around “America's Most Wanted Desperate Housewife,” Terri Schiavo, just goes to show how rightwing ideologues only spare their compassion for those who can't raise their voices and speak out against these unctuous vultures who smother them in false piety i.e.: aborted fetuses, murdered moppets, coma victims and dead Jesus. (Clearly, the Mel Gibson meat puppet version of Christ does a better job promoting the Republican agenda than the living, breathing, political agitator who scorned the wealthy and believed in taxes.)
Matui's article is terrific. I'll just add the weird connection with the Passion of the Christ. Apparently, mourners are talking about the Passion of Terri Schiavo, figuring her as a dying martyr as an innocent suffering before cruel judges, before contemporary Herods and Pilates. The attacks on her husband have gotten worse--from insinuations on tv that he murdered her to Jeb Bush's reference to new evidence that she might have been abused. So we have an ever intensified image of Terri Schiavo, persecuted innocent, embodying the sins of her husband and the law.