Saturday, May 26, 2007

Anti-revolutionary not contra-revolutionary

The term 'anti-revolutionary', as Groen Van Prinsterer said many times, may not be narrowed down to protection of governmental authority against anarchistic threats. For the term includes an openness to any criticism which has as its aim a more responsible functioning of authority as true service; and it also includes an active working for the realization of that kind of authority.

When for examle, active resistance grows aganist governments of certain South American countries which allow social injustices to exist and afford protection only to the strong, then this resistance may very well be an expression of the upholding-in-deed of governmental authority, even if it manifests itself in the sharpest possible criticism of those in power. In circumstances such as these the words of Groen become fully actual again, even for 'anti-revolutionaries': "I must even be jealous of the title revolutionary, as soon as revolution means a just reformation according to the demands of the time and circumstances" (1847). One who blocks the reformation of authority under these circumstances must be called-using Groen's own words- a contra-revolutionary, not an anti-revolutionary because he doesn't choose the side of a just but of an unjust exercise of authority.
Bob Goudzwaard A Christian Political Option p.37

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Choice and the market

“It’s true that the market can be formidably, ruthlessly efficient and do many things well. But it should not be allowed to make social and environmental choices in our stead. Through democratic debate, society has to set limits on the market, determine what goods and services should or should not be bought and sold in the marketplace and decide who pays the costs now externalised. These are political questions in the deepest sense because they touch upon the power to dictate the circumstances of everyone’s life.” (Susan George Another World is Possible If … page 36 )

There are similar problems with this reference to “society” to those pointed out in my previous post. On the positive side though is the emphasis given to the need for responsibility in our choices against the fatalism of “the market”. The very character of making choices requires us to move along a normative path and that in turn presses the question as to who has the responsibility to lead the way. In a complex and highly differentiated world we need to recognise different kinds of actors, James Skillen has helpfully set the tone on this point. It is a shame that Susan George misconstrues this question fundamentally and appears to take us down a pragmatic tunnel as she continues:

The real debate of our time, which almost never takes place, should concern these limits and, above all, who has the power to make the rules (my emphasis p.36)

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Multidimensional Critical Theory

I have been reading Best and Kellner’s Postmodern Theory lately, it gives very clear exposition and critique of a number of important postmodern thinkers in relation to social theory. No doubt an important reason for their clarity is to be found in the development of their own position in the areas dealt with. In their last chapter they begin to outline this view which is described as multidimensional and multiperspectival.

Here’s what they say about its multidimensional character:

A multidimensional critical theory will provide an analysis of the relative autonomy of the various levels or domains of social reality and the ways in which they interact to form a specific mode of social organization. A multidimensional critical theory is dialecti­cal and non-reductive. It conceptualizes the connections between the economic, political, social, and cultural dimensions of society and refuses to reduce social phenomena to any one dimension. A dialectical theory describes the mediations, or interconnections, that relate social phenomena to each other and the dominant mode of social organization. (page 263)

Despite their admirable emphasis on a non-reductive social theory, their notion of a “social organisation” strongly suggests the presence of a whole-part scheme. Throughout the book, Best and Kellner have expressed their appreciation for the development of ‘micro-level’ analyses of society, yet time and again they bemoan the loss of a ‘macro-level’ analysis. One of their constant refrains is the “under theorization” of intersubjectivity/political economy/social hegemony and domination and other macro-level phenomena. This is why they need a notion of ‘social organisation’ to function as the ‘whole’ that substantiates macro-analysis, the “social dimensions” are the elements or parts that are the object of microanalysis, these then get connected dialectically in the macro-analyses to give a view of the ‘social organization’.

Reformational social theory rejects any view of society as a whole; there is no social community that encompass the whole of human life. Instead it insists on the plural structure of society with a differentiation of limited social tasks and responsibilities. The diverse social institutions that take up these tasks, as well as having a limited kind of competence, should be arranged non-hierarchically because they have their meaning within the temporal horizon of creation. An analysis of these diverse social tasks, with the relationships and institutions that respond to them should highlight their qualitative difference wherein is found a diversity of specific norms integral to the carrying out of the specific tasks.

While Best and Kellner recognise an irreducible diversity of social relations their whole-part scheme doesn’t allow them to discern the differentiation of social norms, so while they hold to a normative approach the norms they appeal tend to be quiet general: progressive-regressive, domination-liberation, justice etc.