rev*l*tion

With some reservations, I tend to agree with much of what Pierre Corneille says here:

I don’t see an incipient American revolution. As a normative proposition, I don’t want to see one. Revolutions that deserve the name “revolution,” even ones that are justified and have good outcomes, come with a lot of danger and create a lot of collateral damage.

The reservations begin with the language.  We cannot adequately theorize “revolution” from a utilitarian perspective, since the revolutionary’s “utilities” are by definition different from the counter- or pre-revolutionary’s.  Revolution includes revelation, the creation or advent of new meanings and values:  Otherwise, “revolution” is just “big reform,” as Corneille’s use of the phrase “deserve the name” implicitly acknowledges.  Revolution would include and embody the revelation of its own new norms and uses or would not really be revolution at all.  Put differently, if those new norms and uses could operate, be fully realized, within the set of previous norms and uses – the “nomos” of the pre-revolutionary polity – there would be no need or justification for, or possibility of, revolution.  Put differently again, revolution is in this precise sense always both self-justifying and unjustifiable.

Corneille’s comment appears in a discussion under Elias Isquith’s second post on Cory Booker.  The Booker embarrassment or discomfort – of a Democrat “nauseated” by the critique of “private equity” – in part emanates from the leftist recognition that revolution may not be possible anymore, if indeed it ever really was, whether or not it or some “revolution-like” super-reform would be desirable from whatever perspectives.   In the meantime, a large part of the reaction to Booker – at least what hasn’t already been explained by Mr. Isquith, by Jonathan Chait (who like Isquith has also done at least two posts on the subject), by hardballing TV liberal Chris Matthews – what appears as nausea and counter-nausea, as the just almost unspeakable eruption of class conflict, as remnant reflex hostility to finance capital next to a seeming absence of practically implementable alternatives to financialized neo-liberalism, suggests phantom pain in the left’s amputated revolutionary Marxist limb.

I’ll drop the metaphor here before it gets too grotesque, but will note that the revulsion, like Booker’s nausea, may also be symptomatic.  The anxious uncertainty over the uncertainty – whether to feel merely uncertain, or something worse – is of a piece with the uncertainty over the meaning of the word “liberal” and the extent to which it overlaps with “left,” “progressive,” or “Democrat.”  We would need a shared theory of history, or of historical change, to go much further on this theme.


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