Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Adolph Reed Jr on Rachel Dolezal and "Selma"

I think these are two excellent articles on two related moments.

On the one hand, Reed argues acutely that the problem with Selma is a racial nationalism that has to distort history in order to promote a particularly communitarian identity politics.  On the other hand, we see the absurdity of racial essentialism and identitarian politics in the hullaballoo over Rachel Dolezal.

From Jenner to Dolezal: One Trans Good, the Other Not So Much

The Real Problem with Selma

Reed's critique of racial essentialism goes hand-in-hand with Gillian Rose's critique of contemporary neo-liberal capitalism as falling into two categories, libertarianism and communitarianism, a critique shared in many respects by Jacques Ranciere's Hatred of Democracy:

“By maligning all putative universality as ‘totalitarian’ and seeking to liberate the ‘individual’ or the ‘plurality’ from domination, both the libertarian and the communitarian disqualify themselves from any understanding of the actualities of structure and authority, intrinsic to any conceivable social and political constitution and which their opposed stances still leave intact.  the libertarian argument presupposes formal-legal rationality, just as the communitarian argument presupposes traditional rationality; both are types of legitimising domination as authority.  Politics begins not when you organise to defend an individual or particular or local interest, but when you organise to further the ‘general’ interest within which your particular interest may be represented.” [Italics mine - CDW]

Politics is thus a leap of faith, in two senses: a leap of faith that one might somehow further the general interest, and a leap of faith that one might know what the general interest is.  It is therefore also a leap outside oneself, a seeing the furthering of oneself only in the furthering of another.

I don’t think that this general interest is per se expressed in the state, but it may be represented in the state, and this is the critique of representation.  However, the critiques of representation below are the libertarian and the communitarian: that the individual is beyond representation and at the same time that the group is beyond representation, that is, the singular and the particular severed from the universal.  The critique of representation may be a critique of the state, but it can also be the critique of the possibility of a general interest, with the possibility of governance, as such and a refusal to take responsibility for such a general interest as opposed to individual interest or group (‘community’) interest which only exist within the universal or general interest.  Rose’s critique of the critique of representation is this kind of critique of representation.

p. 4-5
“As a result of this shared refusal to take responsibility for what Weber called the ‘legitimate violences’ of modern politics, libertarianism and communitarianism require other agencies to act on their behalf.”  

“Libertarian extensions of the right of ‘individuals’, the right to purchase and consume goods and services, presuppose and widen the already unequal distribution of opportunities and resources within a capitalist society.  Extension of individual rights amounts to an extension not an attenuation of coercion: it calls for a reinforcement of the police function to contain the consequences of inequality.” [Italics mine - CDW]
This latter is neo-liberalism in a nutshell.

“Communitarian empowerment of ‘ethnic’ and gender pluralities presupposes and fixes a given distribution of ‘identities’ in a radically dynamic society.  ‘Empowerment’ legitimises the political tyranny of the local or particular community in its relations with its members and at the boundary with competing interests.  It is the abused who become abusers; no one and no community is exempt from the paradoxes of ‘empowerment’.

This is of course the politics of representation at another level: “The X ‘community’ needs an X leader because no not-X can possibly speak for/represent the interests of the community they are by definition not a member of.”  This of course also assumes that X identity is the primary or driving identity of a person, Rose’s point being that no one identity is ever adequate, nor are we simply an assemblage of identities with given weights, hence her comment on “a radically dynamic society”.

p. 5
“In their abstract and general opposition to the state, power, rationality and truth, libertarianism and communitarianism directly and indirectly aid and abet authoritarian power of control.  They do so directly, by disowning the coercive immediacy of action legitimated, and indirectly, in the way the stance at stake disowns the political implications of legitimated violence and re-imposes the burdens on agents and agencies of the state.  These reversals in the planned reconfiguration of power arise from the attempt to develop normative political alternatives to the modern state without any preliminary analysis of the actualities and possibilities for freedom and justice.  Any account of ‘freedom’ and ‘justice’ is deemed to depend on the ‘metaphysics’ of truth.  When ‘metaphysics’ is separated from ethics in this way, the result will be unanticipated political paradoxes.” 


  1. I wanted to make sure that you saw this:



  2. In regards to libertarianism and anarchism, what's been your thought on figures such as Karl Hess? I came across an old interview with him on C4SS.