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March 11, 2005

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Alain

Jodi

This is a great post. I think it helps clarify what Zizek is targeting in some of his more provocative statements.

But I wonder if you have had a chance to look at John Halbo's essay. Better than the essay was a post on his website "examinedlife" from back in October where he talks about "unhealthy anti-liberals" and "healthy liberals." He seems to think that healthy liberals already realize and struggle with the limits liberalism places on freedom. I am not convinced he is right but it is a very challenging discussion. Some of the reponses are interesting as well. The name of the piece is "Deja Vu All Over Again."

Kate Marie

"Do either of these critiques mean that the goal should be to eliminate free speech and voting? No. Again, this is the trick that defenders of liberals want to play on its critics--but in so doing, they resign us to more of the same, as if this is the very best we can do. This isn't freedom."

-- What, specifically, IS the goal, then? As for playing tricks, it seems to me that the trick that critics of liberalism want to play on its defenders is precisely this -- to claim that liberalism isn't freedom without having to explain, in ways that go beyond mere signification, what IS freedom.

I haven't read Zizek, and I'm new to this blog, so you may have addressed these issues. What is Zizek's stance toward real historical regimes, for instance? Presumably he would consider Stalinist totalitarianism and American New Deal liberalism merely different ways of making citizens principles of their own subjection. Does he recognize any practical difference between them, or is that just a naive question? If liberalism isn't the best we can do, is it better than other ways of "legitimizing authority"?

RIPope

Not that I'm all that huge a fan of liberal democracies, but in most of them free speech is considered in terms of its effects. One is allowed to speak freely, so long as one is not doing so to harm others. I think the case could certainly be made that Hannity & Colms, and Coulter, et al, are designing their speech to be harmful. They should NOT be free to speak, then, by a sane liberal democracy...
Maybe that sounds scary, but when people are going out of their way to harm the social fabric and a large portion of people that make it up, why should they be allowed to continue?

Kate Marie

Dear RI,

Is Sean Hannity's speech more "harmful to the social fabric" than Michael Moore's? Is Ann Coulter's more harmful than Ward Churchill's? If a case can be made for silencing those speakers, why not make it? It seems to me, though, that your proof of harm to the social fabric would have to involve more than just demonstrating that those speakers persuaded people to think/vote in a way that you don't particularly like.

Liberal democracies like the U.S. are, in general, only legally concerned with the effects of speech when those effects are violent and can be shown to have been caused or incited directly by the offending speech. Are you advocating a new constitutional standard?

Jodi

Alain,
I read JH's recent post--it was why I posted the bit on hermeneutic solidarity and this bit on freedom. I'll look at the past post that you mentioned that involves healthy liberals. For the most part, my references are to debates within academic political theory, so I'll be interested in seeing whether his categories fit with that. My sense of what I have read was that even with the Z overlap that his (JH's) fields of inquiry and frames of reference were pretty different from my own and I wasn't sure how productive that difference would be. That's why I made these posts sort of unrelated rather than directly applicable.

In the history of political thought, the most interesting thinkers are those who recognize and deal with problems and conflicts in the theories. This is also par for the course for academic work.

Jodi

Kate Marie,
I gestured at the end of my post to another notion of freedom, Hegel's in the philosophy of Right where freedom is understood in terms of the practies and notions of a people. Foucauldian accounts of freedom emphasize particular sorts of ethical and aesthetic practices. A marxist notion of freedom would involve one's relation to one's work, both the process and product. So, in my view, the claim that critics of liberalism don't introduce alternative notions of freedom is simply wrong.

And, yes, Zizek does make distinctions between different regimes. He is particularly interested in differences between fascism and communism. He also differentiates between formal democracy (using the idea of the empty space which he takes from Lefort) and the current society of enjoyment found in the US.

Other ways of legimitizing authority begin with challenging authority, not legitimizing it.

RIPope

Kate Marie,
First of all, I'm from Canada, where we do consider limitations to free speech in light of their intended effects. Not that Hannity & Colmes would be banned, however. But they wouldn't get air play in the first place.
But if they did, an ingenious lawyer probably could muster up some Habermasian logic and make a good argument as to how it is a sort of hate speech.
Michael Moore's discourse is not untruthful. Nor does it seek to divide the social against itself. Nothing in his recent film could be called untruthful. Sure, he chooses his edits, but that is the prerogative of every essayist and every filmmaker, and cannot in itself be called dishonest.
Coulter, Hannity, and Colmes, lie all the time. Maybe after enough times, with enough lack of sleep and enough makeup and TV lighting applied to their faces, they begin to lose track of what they're saying, but it is lying nonetheless.
Why shouldn't their prattle be called hate speech? It violates all basic standards of reasonable speech, and is from the get-go oriented to dividing people against each other...
If the Left is going to achieve anything, it must begin by not playing the Right's game, which means to NOT accept that their bollocks is acceptable speech.
Let's put on our Habermasian hats and put an end to this nonsense...

RIPope

Another way of saying it:
"No freedom for the enemies of freedom".

Alain

Jodi

It is interesting that you mentioned Hegel and the Philosophy of Right. In the midst of these discussions Hegel has been in the back of my mind. I may be mistaken but I have always looked at Hegel's thought as moving the question of Freedom beyond libertarianism. His discussions of the Jacobin Terror, the birth of Civil Society as a distinct sphere of individual freedom, and Sittlichkeit all address the issues you have been working through.

Hegel seems to recognize that the economic realm has the potential to exceed its proper role within the structure of a modern state. Whether he could have forseen the danger to the same degree that Marx did is debatable, but he nonetheless recognized that freedom means far more than free market capitalism. His emphasis on mediating institutions, (integrating isolated individuals with a distant bureaucratic state), perhaps could be a resource in facing the political issues today?

Michael Cross

There is an abstract quality to most of this discussion that does not permit the debate to advance beyond the "academic." Economic freedom is surely the most crucial of freedoms, for without it people are unable to exercise the formal "freedoms" of speech, voting, etc. I remember a university colleague who went to the former Yugoslavia. He was disturbed by what he saw as limitations on basic political freedoms. But he was appalled to visit factories (and universities) where all employees voted for their managers and department chairs. He could not see the value of this economic democracy because he had been conditioned to think only in formalized political terms. He could not recognize that liberalism might well undermine more important rights for ordinary people.

Kate Marie

"Hegel seems to recognize that the economic realm has the potential to exceed its proper role within the structure of a modern state. Whether he could have forseen the danger to the same degree that Marx did is debatable, but he nonetheless recognized that freedom means far more than free market capitalism. His emphasis on mediating institutions, (integrating isolated individuals with a distant bureaucratic state), perhaps could be a resource in facing the political issues today?"

Didn't de Tocqueville also recognize the importance of mediating institutions? Mediating institutions still exist in liberal democracies, in somewhat attenuated form (there are probably complicated reasons for this). How do you envision the role of mediating institutions in non-free-market systems? And what do you say to the fact that, historically, mediating institutions have fared far worse in non-free-market systems than in free-market ones?

Kate Marie

RI,

On what basis do you claim that your notion of "freedom' or "truth" is superior to Ann Coulter's or Sean Hannity's? Don't we live in a post-Neitzschean universe in which man is the valuating animal? If so, doesn't this issue really come down to which side has the stronger will to power -- not which side is for "truth" and "freedom?"

I think Michael Moore is a liar, and I can marshal lots of evidence to support my claim. Is my statement "hate speech?" What if I claim that all people who support Michael Moore are the enemies of freedom? Am I being divisive? What if I say, "I hate neo-Nazis, Holocaust-deniers, and racists, and all lovers of truth should reject their pernicious ideas?" Is that hate speech? Is it divisive? Or is it not hate speech because it is "true"? How would Habermas work out these issues?

Kate Marie

Jodi,

Thank you for your reply. I guess what I'm asking is do you advocate one of those alternative forms of freedom, and, if so, what would it look like politically?

As for making distinctions between regimes, would Zizek (or would you) make a practical distinction between, for instance, the Soviet Union under Stalin and the U.S. under FDR? I guess I'm made slightly uncomfortable by what appears to be a disconnect between theory and practice.

Jodi

Kate, of course there are differences, important differences between the USSR under Stalin and the US under FDR. There are differences as well between the US under FDR and the US under GWB. Where is the disconnect?

I tend to find the Hegelian account of freedom very attractive. But, I reject his account of a monarch, the idea that the Prussian state is the highest political form, and his romanticization of war.

When you ask about what an alternative practice of feeling would look like politically, or does look like, that for me is a long complicted question--I'm an academic political theorist and that's the sort of thing we spend a lot of time thinking about, writing detailed discussions of etc. Generally speaking, I think some version of a parliamentary system with a heavy social welfare net is admirable.

Tocqueville--sure. And Adam Smith. The interesting thing is how these guys don't have unmitigated faith in markets, how they value moderation, and the middle. There are conservative elements here, but also elements that emphasize something like a common good that avoids extremes of wealth.

For the record, I am not relativist when it comes to truth and do not think that anything goes.

Jodi

Michael, yes the discussion here tends to be abstract. I'm a political theorist and these are the sorts of questions that interest me. I decided in the first few weeks of blogging that punditry was not for me and that debating concepts and theorists was important, especially since debate over issues is carried out very well, better than I can do, in other places. For me, to think about notions of freedom, subjection, the role of ideology, the possibility of democracy, and what democracy can mean today, are crucial questions.

Jodi

On the discussion between RIPope and Kate Marie, I agree with RI Pope. It's been interesting here in Austin--my German friend is horrified by a piece of jewelry one of our American friends is wearing--it has a skinned man holding his skin--it's of a corpse and from an exhibit of dead bodies. Hubertus thinks this should be totally illegal--it crosses a line of shame important for democratic societies. Lee, wearing the jewelry, thinks that artistic expression is more important. I agree with Hubertus. I do not think that anything goes--as lenin mentioned in a comment on another thread, we have to ask''for whom?"

RIPope

To accept relativism is basically a conservative position these days, since they have more media clout and can bang home `their version' of things more than the Left.
There is such thing as Truth.
Does Michael Moore lie? Not in Farenheit 9/11.
Does Coulter intentionally seek to divide the public against itself? You bet. Does Moore? No. He may be hated by the Right, but his message is ultimately one for the American polity as a whole. Republican messages are designed to divide one element from another, most explicit, for instance, in using the Constitution for political purposes (gay marriage).

Brad

Re: "To accept relativism is basically a conservative position these days, since they have more media clout and can bang home `their version' of things more than the Left."

This is why the spirit of Josh Marshall's article 'The Post-Modern President' (cf., http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2003/0309.marshall.html) is right on the money, even if his understanding of French philosophy is not.

Brad

Well, hell, I didn't realize I could hyperlink in a comment. If you click on the above link, just delete the terminal parenthesis, and it should work. You've probably read the article before anyway.

Jodi

thanks for the link! but it didn't work. oh well.

RIPope

Hi Brad,
No I hadn't known of this article, though of course I know that argument is fairly well rehearsed. (I think I first heard it, in one version, at a Todd Gitlin lecture as an undergrad.) 'Tis deserving of a full post, sometime in the near future... Thanks!

Jodi

thanks for the link! the analysis of Bush is interesting but I think the account of 'postmodernism' and 'deconstructionism' relies on a parody of a much more diverse and rigorous area of scholarship than is acknowledged

Brad

Jodi --

Absolutely. This is why I say I can affirm the most general of spirit in which it is written ... but, at the same moment, distance myself from the philosophical caricature that Marshall relies upon. It is, in the end Washington Monthly -- one must always consider the messenger.

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