Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sad that the academy has given up humanism; the New Left

And instead embraced post-structuralism and Althusser inspired ways of arguing. In the late '60s it was somehow decided that the humanist Marxism presented by people like Herbert Marcuse and Erich Fromm wasn't hardcore enough, and that folks needed to get more serious. In the U.S., this lead to a re-evaluation of Lenin, Mao, and Stalin, while in Europe the trend was translated into higher ed. in the form of post-structuralism, which took the premise that texts and society were self structured without a need for a subject and extended it back to history and up towards the future. Structuralism, originally a literary theory but one that had extensions in anthropology as well, tended to exclude the subjective experience of whatever field it was applied to, instead privileging the 'structure' of it, that determined the individuals. Post-structuralism took on one of the main failings of structuralism, that is that the structures constructed, if you can allow the turn of phrase, appeared to work within limited contexts but did not allow for historical development or change. Now the structure itself became a kind of ideological superstructure over and above the real action, the economic relations and the relations of power underlying history. But still, no focus on the actual subjects of history, except in grand abstractions. People are thought to be doubly determined: determined by the superstructure, that structurally determines their belief systems, that are regarded as inherently false, and also determined by the economics underlying those belief systems and cultural systems. That human beings are the actual mediators of all of this, and that structure, whether ideological or economic, does not just float out there in a vacuum but is created and maintained by human beings, is not emphasized or really, seemingly, thought of in the incoherence of a heady mix of Freud adopted to anti-humanist ends, Hegel, Lenin, Nietzsche,Heidegger, Derrida, and whatever else if fashionable at the time.

The basic strength of the New Left, it's positive vision, in my view came from it's revitalization of the Humanist ideal and its fusion of the same with social justice. Without the human element all you have is an ideology that is functionally sterile and unable to cope with the problems and issues of real life, turning into a husk and unworkable series of ideas that needs to be segregated into its own little field, "Critical Theory", to stand up in any way to actual Critical scrutiny.

If the focus on the human ideal and on human agency were to come back into play in a major way,the theoretical incoherence and irrelevancy of much continental and American "Critical Theory" would most likely be swept away pretty quickly, because it has nothing solid going for it beyond special pleading to some vague fashionability.

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